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R o c» u c r I o i\r 

Digitized by the Internet Archive 
in 2010 



WINTER 1988 



DEBT HEADS collective editorial by green fuchsia 

LETTERS our readers fight hack 

MAGGIE' S FARM pw goes to [green] summer camp 

ESPRIT DE CORPSE taJe of toil and analysis by d. herman 

YOU'VE GOT TO GIVE ME CREDIT one man's solution to the credit problem by gory richardson 

CREDIT CARD GULAG credit cards 8r collections in america by harold tuttle 

OUR AMERICAN ECONOMIC SYSTEM poem by bruce jacobson 

POSING AN PRETENDING things to order 

BIG SHOPPING analysis by dennis liayes 

S. F.A.I. MEMO a document slid under our door 

BORN AGAIN fiction by tamim ansary 

POETRY hendricJtson and schaffer 

MOM fiction by bob sJaymalter 

CHILDREN OF THE NIGHT tale of toil by alien krebs 

A FAMILY BUSINESS fiction by susan gee rumsey 


COLLECTIVE: Primitivo Morales, Trixie T-Square, 
Dennis Hayes, Emily Post-It, Green Fuchsia, 
Jeff Goldthorpe, Shelley Fern Diamond, Ana 
Logue, Frog, Sarkis Manouchian, Moammar 
Crawdaddy, Pauline Polymorph 

CONTRIBUTORS: D.S. Black, Adam B., Tom H., 
JRS, Smurfs In Hell, MarsMensch, Joe Schwind, 
Typesetting Etc., Mark Leger, Marcellus Hall, 
Ken Brown, Ace Backwords, S.W.^ LB. Nelson, 
YoYo McLeod, Ann-Marie Hendrickson, 
Barbara Schaffer, Brad Holland, Mark Beebe 

Processed World is a project of the Bay Area 
Center for Art and Technology, a California 
non-profit organization. For information contact: 
B.A.C.A.T.. 37 Clementina St., San Francisco, 
CA, 94105 (415J 495-6823. Processed World is 
indexed in the Alternative Press Index. All 
articles, stories and graphics reflect the view 
and fantiasies of the author, and not necessarily 
those of other contributors, PW, or B.A.C.A.T. 
ISSN 0735-9381. 

Front and Back Covers by Ramone Munoz 


The great eighties credit card binge: 
In this issue, Gary Richardson embrac- 
es it, Harold Tuttle curses it, Dennis 
Hayes analyzes it, and Mir Tamin 
Ansary sexualizes it. What are these 
guys talking about, anyway? 

Of course, everyone knows by now 
that the corporations, the government 
and private individuals have all taken on 
enormous amounts of debt during the 
Reagan years. It has become a cliche to 
say that we've mortgaged our future to 
the hilt. All this debt isn't bad for 
everyone, however. The truly advan- 
taged few whose income growth exceeds 
the interest rate on their loans are 
rewarded on their indebtedness. The 
continued increase in their wealth will 
make it easy to pay off past obligations. 
For the economy as a whole, that's quite 
a gamble, particularly since most of the 
debt is incurred for nonproductive pur- 
chases like consumer goods and arma- 
ments. Wall St. certainly isn't betting on 
future growth. Stock prices are so low 
that takeover artists can make money by 

going massively into hock to buy out a 
company's shares. They hope to recoup 
by immediately selling off chunks of 
their new property to other empire 

Maybe we should view the mounting 
debt as a national game of hot potato. 
Prices are high, wages are low, and 
everybody wants to be rich. We can 
enjoy the illusion of wealth by robbing 
from the capital investment fund, pay- 
ing for our toys by borrowing from each 
other. Let the devil worry about those 
who end up stuck with the bills. Gary 
Richardson reflects that attitude, all 
right, in his You've Got to Give Me 
Credit. Richardson's main source of 
income is his credit card pyramid, in 
which newly acquired cards are used to 
pay off old ones. Richardson views 
credit as a kind of "magic," as if wealth 
falls from the sky. 

Harold Tuttle, in The Credit Card 
Gulag, counters this credit card mysti- 
cism with a dose of bureaucratic logic. 
Tuttle, who is trapped in the collections 


Page 2 

department of a large bank's credit card 
operations, speaks from the belly of the 
beast. Everyday, he sees people dragged 
under the wheels of the system when 
their debt gets out of control. Richard- 
son cannot count on simply ignoring 
his liabilities if things go wrong, 
Tuttle warns. 

In Big Shopping, Dennis Hayes 
leaves Richardson and Tuttle to argue 
over the credit cards themselves and 
examines the shopping frenzy the cards 
support. Quoting the Wall Street Journal, 
Hayes notes that shopping has become 
"arguably the nation's favorite pastime 
next to television watching." Shoppers, 
he says, are attempting through con- 
sumption to fulfill their fantasies and 
fend off their insecurities in an unstable, 
lonely world. Marketing strategists have 
successfully integrated image and pro- 
duct to encourage consumption for its 
own sake. 

Speaking of fantasies, Tamin Ansary 
takes Hayes one step further in Born 
Again. He constructs a sexual fantasy 
involving actual credit cards. What does 
this story mean, anyway? Readers will 
just have to divine the meaning of credit 
card sex for themselves. 

Beneath Ansary's far-out conflation of 
sexuality and credit card use lies a 
central question: How do pressures 
around sexual identity and sexual 
achievement help spawn shopping ma- 
nia? Remember, there are two genders 
out there, with different relations to 
credit card consumerism. Gender-based 
buying patterns arise because men and 
women hope that purchasing the right 
products will give them a greater mas- 
culine or feminine allure. This is a hope 
constantly exploited by Madison Ave- 
nue to induce still more consumption. 
Of course, achieving a respected sexual 
identity is not an end in itself. It is 
supposed to enhance one's social status 
and lead to greater sexual gratification. 

But if sexuality is key to creating 
compulsive consumption, it is also key 
to its dissolution. In opposition to the 


yuppie ideal, let me introduce the zippie 
lifestyle — led by those with 2ero mcome 
and /Plenty of sex. 


Forget Shopping, Let Your Fingers 
Do the Walking I've been rich, and I've 
been poor, and rich is better, but only 
marginally so, believe me. Making 
$100,000 a year did not make my family 
five times happier than making $20,000 
did. We weren't even 50 times happier. 
Spending all the money was a tedious, 
time-consuming process that diverted 
our attention from the struggle to get 
real satisfaction out of life. The frustra- 
tions of it all killed my father. 

Now I'm a creditless deviant in a 
culture that increasingly revolves 
around credit cards. My applications for 
those cards are uniformly turned down 
for lack of a credit history. (That 
paragon of progressivism. Working As- 
sets, suggested that I go downtown, get 
a department store card, make some 
purchases, and reapply in a year. So 
much for socially responsible fmanciail 
counseling.) Yet I manage to survive 
and sometimes flourish in this appa- 
rently deprived condition. 

That's where the zippie concept comes 
in. My stereo's twenty years old, but I 
don't care. A little intimate conversation 
that leads to hugging is a lot more fun 
than a new stereo. And I'd trade a 
Mercedes for a night of cuddling and 
fucking any day. The way I figure it, the 
world is rich enough: People who feel 
socially- sexually fulfilled will always find 
enough to eat, but those who lead empty 
lives will always be hungry. 

If they noticed, the media might 
dismiss zippie types like me as "stuck in 
the sixties." The late sixties were an 
exciting time — I'd rather be stuck there 
than in a checkout line. Twenty years 
ago, people started seeing sex as more 
than some fun thing for your off hours, 
an empty pleasure that could be en- 
hanced by purchasing the proper pack- 
aging. Sexuality was instead considered 
central to building the networks of 
committed relationships that would 
form the basis of revolutionary commu- 
nity, in which a broad sense of solidarity 
and compassion would cut through 
capitalism's alienated materialist values. 
Realizing humanity's erotic potential, 
then, would be prerequisite to human 

So the revolutionaries failed in the 
seventies, brought down by their own 
capitalist roots as much as anything. At 
least they had some good times with 
their friends. In the eighties, the Reaga- 

nite message is to fear other people and 
avoid unconventional relationships. 
Trusting "strangers," really anyone but 
the traditional authority figures, will get 
you hurt. With the advent of AIDS, the 
line has become "sex is death." It's safe 
to go out to buy something, but not to 
go out in search of love. 

AIDS is the product of a very partic- 
ular set of environmental coincidences 
that facilitate the disease's transmission. 
In the early eighties, gays were hit by 
rapidly spreading waves of infection as 
individuals sexually passed the AIDS- 
causing virus onto others. Such waves 
did not occur among straights and 
lesbians even though plenty of nongays 
acquired AIDS through IV needle shar- 
ing and contaminated blood products. It 
should have been clear years ago that 
there will be no heterosexual or lesbian 
AIDS epidemic to parallel the gay one. 
Recently, AIDS transmission in gays, 
too, has fallen to near zero. 

Gays have suffered enormously from 
AIDS, and that is reason enough for 
everybody to be concerned. But despite 
the horrible buffeting it has taken, the 
gay community will survive — and so 
will gay sexuality. In fact, gays' extraor- 
dinary response to the epidemic was 
possible precisely because of the erotic 
bonds holding the community together. 
The wide range of activities undertaken 
by gays, from putting political pressure 
on the government to caring for the sick 
to making individual adjustments in 
sexual practice, represents an unparal- 
leled case of spontaneous self- 
organization in which the established 
authorities played a decidedly secondary 

The way gays have adapted and 
preserved their sexual fellowship in the 
face of AIDS is the most inspiring story 
of the decade. It shows how we all can 
unite around our sexual energy to 
challenge the forces that repress us. So 
cut up those credit cards. Don't worry, 
be happy. And use your happiness to be 


And, kiddies, here's what else we have 
for you today: 

In Our American Economic Sys- 
tem, a poem that appeared right at 
deadline time, Bruce Jacobson comes 
from out of nowhere to show that he's a 
zippie too. See, already it's a trend. In 
contrast. Bob Slaymaker's story Mom, 
which concerns a NY bag lady, de- 
scribes the attractions and contradic- 
tions of what might be called a zinful 

(zero income, no sex) way of life. Then, 
in Children of the Night, Allen Krebs 
— a sort of Gary Richardson without 
credit cards — tells what it's like to work 
in the public schools of an inner city. 
We also have a story, Family Business 
by Susan Rumsey, that extends shopp- 
ing to life after death, with macabre 

In our section on Esprit de Corp., 
Dan Herman and Trixie T-Square 
reveal the seamy underside of creating a 
sexy image for women. As usual, ma- 
nipulation and oppression dominate the 
work experience, Esprit's upbeat public 
face notwithstanding. Esprit's special 
irony is that its employees, themselves 
mostly female, are laboring to provide 
the very shopping ideals that motivate 
people to keep toiling away. The work- 
shop-work cycle is secure because its 
promoters are trapped in it, just like 
everyone else except the zippies. They too 
crave material enrichment to compen- 
sate for the debasement of human 
relations that starts on the job. 

Finally, we have a spread on the 
conflict between staff and administra- 
tion at the San Francisco Art Institute. 
SFAFs employees have seized the initia- 
tive in their lives. They're standing up 
together against their superiors, and 
having fun whUe they're at it. I bet their 
sex lives are good, too. 

— Green Fuchsia & the PW collective 


'"•^^^ "'"'la's ??" «"" 





From Down Under 

Dear PW, 

Thanx as usual for a great maga- 
zine 22, you only get better (except I 
used to really like the multicolored 
printing-but the boss's photocopier 
didn't, so black is OK!) 

Lucius Cabins' "Dollars and Ecolo- 
gy" is a tonic for the troops! I'm 
fuckin' fed up with wimpy greenies. 
The paragraph beginning "instead of 
stepping back..." down in the LH 
bottom of page 9 says it all baby! I 
like this critical stance you take on 
lots of issues-the mainstream left gets 
fat and sloppy if we (anarchists, 
individuals, etc.) don't keep a close 
watch on their activities. Giant 
Sponge is "hot," too! 

Our friend the VDT has been up 
(workers) and down (boss) a few times 
already in our lift. [Ed. Does this 
mean it was posted in an elevator ?] 
It's great to get value packed double 
pages like this instant agitation prop- 
aganda poster. 

Our neglected cities — whilst being 
a bit too compromising and rational- 
ist for me inspires me to send you 
another article from an Australian 
magazine — NEXUS — mostly full of 
soft core stuff and ads for NEW AGE 
SHIT but occasional value (like they 
had an article on Katya last issue 
too!). I'm sending them a copy of your 
Katya interview. 

Idea for future issue there: the new 
age... I really do think that this is a big 
threat to the further development of 
human society (read: the revolution). 
A threat because it takes bits from 

everywhere that are by themselves 
good — blends them together but casts 
it all in a mould of cappo- 
individualism that seems to go hand 
in glove with all this laissez-faire and 
New Right stuff. Like one crystal 
worshiper I was talking to the other 
day expressed the common New Age 
belief that "If you're sick its because 
you want to be sick. If you're unemp- 
loyed its because you want to be 
unemployed, therefore no sickpay, no 

As Shirly Mclean [sic) says you are 
your god so are responsible for every- 
thing happening to you. Forget Capi- 
talism forget Socialism forget even 
Unionism it's all based on Individual- 
ism and so lets all these get-rich- 
quick "Herbalife" etc. piggy-back on 
top of good alternative lifestyle ideas. 

Just like we should criticize the 
Eco-professionals, I would like to see 
PW look at the New Age professionals 
and its implications. Basically the 
cooption of solid leftist stuff by the far 

I'm not expressing myself clearly at 
all here, but I've got this idea & its a 
passionate one — perhaps you can see 
my point. One day I'll find a words 
person to work with me (a radio 
worker) 'cos when I get them words 
together, boy am I gonna make the 
scathingest satirical attack on the 
New Age/Right ever. Get the musi- 
cians — I mean Windham Hill is a 
pretty easy target for theft! 

Oh yeah loved "Learning Curve" 
too. Just today news is coming about 


people working to privatise the jails 
over here in Australia. I was outraged 
that anyone could suggest such a 
thing and then I read "L.C." and 
talked to a friend about it who told me 
that the U.S. already has privatized 
jails. FUCK ME! No wonder the sta- 
tistics show a lower rate of recidivism 
to those for-profit places: they must 
be scary. 

Also the Dante quote & graffic on 
pg. 43 V. nice. I love all this stuff — as 
I said instant posters. Your work is 
joyfully plundered by local propa- 
gandists — hopefully the few graffics I 
have sent will put a little back your 

I could go on but 2 pages is 
probably enough — sorry to authors & 
artists I missed but what I am saying 
is I like the PW collective's output in 
general. Like I'm a pushbike com- 
muter (or at least when the RSIs 
behaving itself [Repetitive Stress 
Syndrome]) so anything on bikes I'm 
gonna like. 


— SW(2)T New South Wales 


P.S....why not do a songs/poems/ 
graffix of protest issue. Have written 
some originals, happy to contribute 
also want to cover other peoples' 

P.P.S. Talcott's "Friday" poem 
cracked me up completely on the bus 
this morning — started looking out for 
that blue chewy. 

Page 4 


AutoDestructioii Response 

Dear PW, 

Your material on "autodestruction" 
certainly spoke to one of my long- 
standing pet peeves. Dependency on 
the automobile as the way to meet our 
need to get around has become so 
total in the postwar era and yet it is so 
destructive: Air pollution from ex- 
hausts, "greenhouse" effect from mass 
world-wide combustion of fossil fuels, 
the highest fatality-per-passenger- 
mile rate of any mode of transport, 
inefficiency of energy use compared 
with electric rail systems or even 
buses, the acceptance of thousands of 
deaths and injuries yearly from auto- 
mobiles as if this were "inevitable", 
the gobbling up of formerly produc- 
tive farm lands outside cities for the 
building of ugly sprawl, all the wast- 
ed space devoted to parking lots and 
ever-more-congested roads, the atom- 
izing of city life as public areas 
such as sidewalks are depopulated in 
favor of each individual in his/her 
car, etc. 

Growing up in Los Angeles in the 
years after World War 11 , I constantly 
heard the refrain that this auto- 
organized world was the "inevitable 
line of progress." As a youngster I 
wasn't yet able to articulate counter- 
arguments to this universal blather, 
but I knew in my gut something was 

In fact it is not too difficult to see 
that a different sort of direction would 
have been technically possible — even 
for Los Angeles, that city that has 
come to personify, perhaps more than 
any other, the postwar trend of auto- 
mania and suburban sprawl. 

I remember the miles of farmland 
— devoted to walnut orchards, etc. — 
in the San Fernando Valley in the 
'50s, mile after mile of orange groves 
along two-lane, tree-lined roads in 
Orange County, the extensive marsh- 
lands along the Orange County coast, 
and the vineyards and small wineries 
in the country stretching east of Los 
Angeles towards San Bernardino. All 
of this is now gone, totally trans- 
formed by uncontrolled land specula- 
tion. By the late '60s the air had 
become so rancid the remaining cit- 
rus trees in outlying areas were dying 
and, in any case, the growers were 
eyeing the potential profits from land 
sales as the approaching freeways 
made suburban development an im- 
mediate "opportunity." 

The Sepulveda Flood Control Basin 
near Van Nuys gives an idea of what 
could have been done: As a spillover 
area in case of flash floods, a chunk of 

the San Fernando Valley has been 
preserved in its original state, with its 
annual harvest of pvmipkins and other 
produce. There is no reason that large 
swaths of land between the towns on 
the Southern California coastal plain 
could not have been preserved as 
permanent agricultural conservan- 
cies, just as the Sepulveda Basin has 
been. Instead of endless suburban 
sprawl consuming the whole coastal 
plain like a cancer, development 
might have been concentrated in 
increasingly dense urban areas along 
rail lines. 

As far as transportation is con- 
cerned, Los Angeles already had in 
place in the '40s an "interurban" rafl 
system that, if it had been suitably 
improved and expanded, could have 
provided at least the begirmings of an 
alternative to the private automobfle. 
"Interurban" was the term for a type 
of troUey system that was very com- 
mon in the U.S. of A. through the '30s 
but virtuaUy extinct today. Unlike a 
conventional streetcar system, which 
typically has its tracks in street pave- 
ment within a city, an "interurban" 
typically runs mostly on private right 
of way to outlying towns and suburbs. 
These rights of way were particularly 
important because they made it pos- 
sible for trains to operate over longer 
distances at higher speeds, and 
would enable a system to be more 
easily upgraded to rapid transit as 
warranted by increasing urban densi- 


system, thus, had been built as an 
adjunct to the real estate ventures of 
H.E. Huntington, heir of one of the 
Southern Pacific "robber barons." 
(People who've seen the movie "Chi- 
natown" may recall that L.A. busi- 
nessmen of that era also did occa- 
sionally make vise of goverrmient sub- 
sidies—in that case, the construction 
of the Owens Valley aqueduct, which 
vastly increased the value of land 
owned by Huntington and his pals in 
the desert-Uke San Fernando Valley. 
But at that time water was as far as 
goverrmient responsibflity had 

L.A.'s "Red Car" system always had 
to be subsidized by other, more prof- 
itable ventures because, in fact, the 
system was always unprofitable. In 
1911 Southern Pacific bought out 
Huntington. S.P. wanted to make sure 
the huge freight traffic generated by 
P.E. went east over its own rails and 
not those of competitors such as Santa 
Fe. During the 42 years that the "Red 
Car" lines were operated under S.P. 
auspices (1911-1953), Pacific Elec- 
tric only declared a profit in eight 
years: 1912-13, 1923, 1942-45 and 
1948. The profit in 1942-45 was due 
to war-time restrictions on private 
auto travel (gas rationing, etc.). The 
marginal profit in 1948 was due to a 
fare hike — which only resulted in 
further ridership losses the following 
year, and a return to red ink. The 
losses would have been worse without 


It is hard to imagine today, but L.A. 
was the center of the world's largest 
"interurban" — the Pacific Electric 
"Red Car" system, which was still 
carrying passengers over 900 miles of 
track as late as 1950. 

In the postwar era, Southern Cali- 
fornia real estate speculators could 
depend upon the goverrmient to pro- 
vide massive subsidies for their profi- 
teering schemes through freeway, 
street and utility construction, etc. 
But at the turn of the century the real 
estate developers had to provide for 
the transport and utility needs of 
residents themselves. The "Red Car" 

the profits from freight-hauling. 

Nowadays the business class has 
grudgingly resigned itself to the real- 
ity that public transport of people in 
cities must be sudsidized, especially 
after it was rendered hopelessly un- 
profitable in the postwar era by the 
huge goverrmient subsidies to a com- 
.peting form of transport (autos). But 
even back in the '20s and '30s the 
public transit industry was not profit- 
able enough to attract the capital 
that would have been required for 
massive rapid transit improvements 
needed to keep up with urban devel- 
opment and competitive pressure 



from the auto industry. 

Public transit has been chronically 
underfunded essentially because it is 
a pubUc good — it provides all sorts of 
side benefits on top of the value to the 
individual passenger of each particu- 
lar ride. These benehts accrue to the 
various businesses, landowners and 
government and private agencies lo- 
cated along the rail lines. But the 
"Red Car" system had no right, under 
the prevailing capitahst setup, to go 
to those organizations and say, "Re- 
imburse us for the service we pro- 
vide." The rail system could only get 
revenue from selling something it 
could privately control: rides. 

"pubUc good." So the logic of the 
private enterprise, market system 
naturally leads to degradation of the 
air quality. 

Because "Red Car" passenger op- 
erations were unprofitable, its owner 
(S.P.) had no incentive to invest in 
improvements. Like any other capi- 
talist outfit, S.P. is going to put its 
capital where it has the best chance 
to grow. The result was that S.P. 
simply refused to rebuild worn-out 
tracks (except for certain lines that 
had a high volume of freight traffic) 
and refused to buy new cars. 

By the late '40s the tracks on many 
of the lines were in awful shape — 


Or, to put the same point in another 
way, the auto-manufacturers, petro- 
leum-refiners, suburban developers 
and other companies profiting hom 
the transition to an auto-dependent 
society did not have to pay the social 
costs of auto-dependency that have 
now become much more obvious than 
they were back in the 'SOs and '40s 
(now that we're choking on them). A 
built-in defect of a capitahst economy 
is that there are many costs and 
benefits to society that are not ade- 
quately reflected in the money that 
changes hands through the countless 
private transactions that makes up 
the money economy. 

Companies could, for example, use 
up the clean air (by polluting it) 
without having to pay for it (until 
belated goverrmient regulations be- 
gan to impose some token costs). Or, 
to put it the other way, if a company 
spent a lot of money to avoid pollut- 
ing the air, it couldn't then go to 
everyone and say, "Pay us for this 
expense we've incurred." They 
couldn't do so because clean air, like 
a good public transit system, is a 

typically, trains were running on the 
original rail laid down at the turn of 
the century. As government subsidies 
to auto transport increased, thou- 
sands of grade crossings had been cut 
through the rights of way, which 
posed a hazard that required slower 
operating speeds. In the older, cen- 
tral part of Los Angeles the lines 
operated in congested city streets, 
which slowed down operation consid- 

A technical solution existed for 
these problems. The P.E. operations 
could have been upgraded to rapid 
transit through incremental improve- 
ments. Viaducts could have been 
built to carry tracks over street cross- 
ings and subways could have been 
built to replace the streetcar tracks in 
the more densely built areas, like 
downtown L.A. 

For example, the main problem 
facing the lines to the western beach 
communities was the use of streetcar 
tracks for the first hve miles out of 
downtown. The private right of way 
began at a major junction and rail 
yard called "Vineyard" (in back of the 

Sears department store on Pico Bou- 
levard). But as early as 1904 a 
private right of way had been ac- 
quired for a subway from downtown 
to Vineyard through neighborhoods 
that have since become the most 
densely populated area in Southern 
California. A proposal to construct 
that subway as a federally-funded 
public works project at the height of 
the Great Depression carried a $19 
million pricetag (that's about $184 
million in 1986 dollars). After the 
Venice line was abandoned in 1950 
the unused subway right of way was 
sold off for apartment house construc- 
tion. Vineyard was converted into — 
what else? — a shopping center. 

A system that works on the basis of 
short-term private profits ends up 
doing all sorts of short-sighted stu- 
pidities. The failure to carry out the 
numerous rapid transit improvements 
proposed for the "Red Car" system in 
the '20s, '30s and '40s has proved to 
be one of the most obvious stupidities 
in hindsight. 

The last "Red Car" line — the line to 
Long Beach, abandoned in 1961 — is 
now being rebuilt on the very same 
right of way at a cost of almost half a 
billion dollars. 

Moreover, the service will be inferi- 
or to what could have been provided 
on even a moderately improved "Red 
Car" system. That's because they no 
longer have the 4-track mainline 
which enabled the longer-distance 
trains to run non-stop on the center 
two tracks for the seven miles from 
downtown to Watts while Watts locals 
made the numerous stops on the 
outside tracks to service residents of 
the neighborhoods along the way. 
The new "light rail" trains will have to 
make numerous stops through these 
neighborhoods which will lengthen 
the travel time to Long Beach. 

My point here is that a particular 
technological direction — increasingly 
total auto-dependence — was not "in- 
evitable" but came about because cer- 
tain other possible directions of tech- 
nological development were closed 
off by the logic of capitalist develop- 
ment. The author of your article cites 
the efforts of National City Lines to 
dismantle trolley systems in the U.S. 
Though National City Lines did take 
over the conventional streetcar sys- 
tem in central L.A. (another company 
founded by H.E. Huntington, called 
Los Angeles Railway), they did not 
take over the Pacific Electric lines, 
contrary to the popular myth. I think 
we can trace this myth back to the 



testimony of muckraker Bradford 
Snell. Snell confused the two trolley 
systems in L.A. (In the jargon of local 
residents these two systems were 
distinguished by their paint schemes: 
"Red Cars" vs. "Yellow Cars".) 

Yet, there is an element of truth to 
the myth: The outfit that did take over 
the "Red Car" remnants (Metropoli- 
tan Coach Lines) was headed by a 
former National City Lines manager 
with the same anti-rail orientation 
and backed by the same auto and 
petroleum interests. Nonetheless, 
though MCL did dismantle two of the 
lines (they shut down L.A.'s trolley 
subway in 1955), I don't think we can 
explain what happened by seeing it 
as a "conspiracy" of certain big 
monopolists. Of the 18 "Red Car" 
lines that still existed in early 1950, 
12 had already been shutdown by the 
time MCL entered the picture in '53. 
For example, S.P. abandoned the six 
lines of the "Northern District" (to San 
Gabriel Valley destinations such as 
Pasadena) in 1951; S.P.'s excuse was 
its reluctance to spend $125,000 to 
relocate track to get around freeway 
construction in downtown L.A. 

During the critical phase in the 
history of L.A.'s "Red Car" system — 
the mass abandormients of 1950-52 
— the Los Angeles city government 
was controlled by the "progressive" 
administration of Fletcher Bowren, 
elected in a ClO-initiated recall 
campaign in 1938. Though the Bow- 
ren administration was sympathetic 
to upgrading the "Red Car" lines to 
rapid transit, they were not able to 
overcome the powerful forces in 
American society (especially strong 
in Southern CaUfornia) that opposed 
public funding for rail mass transit. 
(In 1953 the Bowren administration 
was accused by the Los Angeles 
Times of being riddled with commies 
and lost a bitter election — a casualty 
of the Cold War.) 

Private auto ownership held the 
promise of personal mobiUty. As an 
increasing proportion of the work- 
force owned automobiles, the poten- 
tial constituency for a highway- 
oriented policy expanded. The post- 
war transformation of Southern CaU- 
fornia was only just beginning, and, 
thus, the reincid air quality and daily 
traffic frustrations of today were still 
in the future. And S.P. took the 
position that it could not be asked to 
shoulder financial losses so that rights 
of way would be preserved for some 
future time when the pohtical climate 
might change. 

The predominant consensus 

amongst the political leadership of 


the area— both liberals and conser- 
vatives — left the criterion of profita- 
bility unchallenged and thus accept- 
ed the destruction of the "Red Car" 
system as "inevitable." 

This failure of the political system 
remained to the end: The last four 
lines — the "Southern District" lines 
to Watts, Long Beach, San Pedro and 
Bellflower — were shut down by the 
State of California (under the Uberal 
administration of Pat Brown) after it 
took over L.A.'s transit systems in 
1958. The pohtical system is domi- 
nated by the perceived needs and 
values of the business community, 
and so it should not be surprising that 
it tends to go along with "business as 

The decline, and eventual destruc- 
tion, of the "Red Car" system hap- 
pened precisely because it was im- 
prolitable, not because of a "conspir- 
acy" of auto interests. Capitalism isn't 
rim as a conspiracy of bad guys in a 
back room. What happens in the 
system is due to the particular way it 
is put together — domination of every- 
thing by market exchange and mon- 
ey, having to sell yourself to live, the 
criterion of profitability governing 
everything. It is precisely this social 
organization that accounts for the 
degradation of public transportation 
in 20th century America. 


Tom Wetzel 

D. W. replies: 

Agreed!! That's exactly why I talked 
about auto-mobility enriching corp- 
orate coffers like no other consumer 
product. Organizations set up to build 
and sell automobiles will become 
very good at all methods for ensuring 
profits in the business, including put- 
ting the competition out of business 
by whatever means possible. National 
City Lines was simply the logical ex- 
treme to which the automakers would 
go in order to ensure that their corp- 
orate policies would become the na- 
tion's (and the world's) transportation 

Timber Land CR 

Dear Processed World, 

Thank-you, Med-O, for writing the 
tale of toil that I have always wanted 
to write! Thank-you for saving me 
quite a bit of creative, imaginary 
work!! As a former tree planter in- 
volved in that chaotic period, I can 
say that you have accurately port- 
rayed a movement that struggled to 

be recognized and to have an effect, 
but that was up against something 
bigger than we could put back, basi- 
cally global destruction by clearcut- 
ting. Many were the times that I 
would be literally in tears and sob- 
bing as I drove into large clearcut 
areas such as the Shelton Ranger 
District (Washington) or the eastern 
side of the Cascades, where we expe- 
rienced that "act of God [sic]" under 
the famed St. Helens cloud of ash. In 
areas such as these, clearcutting 
happens in rocky areas that will never 
reproduce the former stands of trees. 

Perhaps the only critique I can offer 
is that I got a sense that Med-O, 
perhaps because of his current isola- 
tion from direct action of this kind, 
tends to underestimate our impact on 
the forestry industry as a whole. The 
idea of women flashing breasts at a 
fuzz-brained inspector was humorous 
and certainly had its consciousness- 
raising effects on the inspector, but I 
think that this example is merely 
symbolic of a larger consciousness- 
raising effect on the overall industry 
that Med-O downplayed. The forestry 
industry and the individuals who run 
it are in general dense and greedy, 
and they do things in a macho, 
destructive, uncontrolled fashion. I 
think that our presence as workers, 
however limited, has given them a 
glimmer of how environmentally cor- 
rect the use of resources could be. 

For example, slash burning is a key 
insane practice that is being chal- 
lenged, and if it is stopped, could 
have a dramatic effect on how fores- 
try land is managed. On a number of 
other issues, too, including pesticides 
(which Med-O talks about), undocu- 
mented workers, specifications of 
contracts, selective cutting, alder 
management, conifer release, sus- 
taining the cooperative movement, 
and performance of inspectors, the 
cooperative forestry movement 
should be recognized as a group of 
people who decided to rebel against 
the status quo, and, come what may, 
however briefly in an historical sense, 
significantly challenged and 

changed the ideas within an industry 
entrenched in unenlightened de- 
struction. Yes, worker/owners do 
"manage" their own exploitation, but 
within their action, they carry the 
seed of consciousness transformation 
that is the essential ingredient of 
effective revolutions. 

C.T.— Olympia, WA 

continued on page 42 




A collaboration by Lucius Cabins, Adam Cornford, Green Fuchsia, 
and Med-o, the text below appeared in a leaflet Processed World dis- 
tributed at the "Greening of the West" conference held this fall in the 
coastal mountains south of San Francisco (a version of this leaflet also 
circulated at an Earth First gathering held earlier in Northern Cali- 
fornia). Controversy quickly surrounded our entre to the conference (see 
"Movement of Substance or Fiber?"). 

The text takes up major issues that the Greens largely ignore. We 
support wilderness struggles worldwide. But a direct defense of remote 
flora, fauna, and natural resources against "development" is not an 
immediately accessible political expression for most who live in or 
around cities. 

The reclaiming and restoration of our cities are as crucial as struggles 
in the hinterlands. The struggle for viable urban ecologies — not neces- 
sarily those prefigured by the vegetarian diets, natural fiber wardrobes, 
Windham Hill music and other preferences of the flourishing Green 
consumer subculture — is an exciting prospect and a challenge to our 
collective imagination. These struggles will involve contests for political 
and economic power, topics about which many Greens remain silent (see 
"Dollars and Ecology: Different Shades of Green?" in Processed 
World 22j. For most of us at Processed World, the "green thing" 
has emerged as fertile political ground because it suggests a way to give 
positive content to an alternative social agenda. It is a way that could 
engage and even "reemploy" countless office and technology workers 
whose creative energies are currently stifled, or squandered, processing 
the fiscal alchemy that is late capitalism. 

The time has come to explore the perspectives raised below. In fact, 
we are in the primitive stages of planning an urban ecology conference 
in San Francisco for fall 1989. Perhaps you, like many of us, are a 
"wannabe Green" —feeling excluded by, yet attracted to. Green politics. 
Please write us with your ideas, donations (payable to Bay Area Center 
for Art and Technology), and help. We promise a conference that is 
neither boring nor humorless. _ /) //. 


he Greens' combination of electoral poli- 
tics, direct action tactics, and relatively decentralized, non- 
hierarchical organization has made an important contribu- 
tion to the fight against the corporate-government leviathan 
destroying our biosphere. But activists remain far from 
gaining the power to really alter the world's suicidal course. 
That power can only come from an urban, work-based 
movement able to contest the economy's fundamental in- 
ternal logic. 

Creating such a movement means first of all dropping the 
seemingly irresistible urge to guilt-trip people who haven't 
embraced eco-asceticism. Certainly, mindless consumption 
is a problem on which recycling, prudent buying habits, 
and boycotts can have some impact. However, atomized 
individual consumers are not the core of the problem, nor 
are they the key to the solution. In the first place, large cor- 
porate and governmental entities (like the military) are by 
far the greatest polluters and resource pillagers. Secondly, 
attacking consumption on the basis of individual guilt 
fails to acknowledge the incredibly narrow range of life- 
style choices available to most people in the global capitalist 
system. This tack places emphasis on the very limited power 
of consumer "choice" rather than on people's real social 
power as producers. 

Changing our course requires new insights about the 
world we would like to live in, how we would like to function 
in that world, and how what we do now is an impediment 
to reaching our goals. If we merely adopt simplicity and 

/^>i^ FARM 

moderation as our watchwords and fail to bring new con- 
cepts of wealth and the good life into the movement's vision, 
a widening of participation across class, race, and cultural 
lines to include those who have never attained affluence is 
highly unlikely. 

"Work First!" Means "Earth Second!" 

Instead of a broad-based discussion on how to formulate 
economic goals that respect both natural and human needs, 
we hear talk of "community-based economics." This amounts 
to little more than a plan for small business associations, 
albeit frequently based on employee ownership. Although 
there are of course ecological advantages to economic 
localism, such localism in itself does not challenge the logic 
of the market, nor can it contest the really large blocs of 
capital— IBM, General Motors, the USSR— that control the 
global marketplace. Not even worker ownership marks a 
break with market relationships, since worker cooperatives 
will have to achieve the same level of productive efficiency 
as the giants do to compete successfully. Worker-owners 
will either have to speed themselves up or lay themselves 

Worker cooperatives will need to yield the same profit 
margins as other businesses to survive, and they will be faced 
with the same tradeoffs between ecology and economics 
that other businesses are faced with. The pressure to com- 
promise the environment to get a higher rate of profit will 
be enormous. 

While "community-based" companies strive to accumu- 
late capital locally, the people working in them remain 
wage laborers. This is the heart of the problem. The con- 
tinued control of production by closed, profit-oriented eco- 
nomic units employing workers motivated largely by direct 
material rewards spawns a culture centered on material 
acquisition. And nature is reduced to a set of resources to 
be exploited. 



A Systemic Poison 

As individuals, we have virtually no say over the purpose 
of the time for which we are paid. After working all week 
making one product or another — be it computer code, 
automobiles, or windmills — we get our money and then, 
we are told, that's when our freedom beginsl Yet it is during 
those unfree hours on the job that we most actively partici- 
pate in the ecological devastation of the world. 

We cannot escape by finding a "good job." The problem 
is systemic. You might not personally dump toxics in the 
local water supply, but your work is linked to a chain of 
ecologically destructive actions. You might, for instance, 
be a secretary/word processor for a manufacturer of pro- 
cessed health foods. While on the job, you use computer 
equipment whose production entailed leaching toxics into 
the Santa Clara Valley water table. The reams of paper 
your printer cranks out are made from trees clearcut from 
diminishing forests. Most importantly, the making of gra- 
nola bars and other pseudo-wholesome foods "your" com- 
pany churns out involves all sorts of noxious effects, from 
release of greenhouse gases during manufacture of the plas- 
tic wrappers to massacre of plant and insect species by 
"scientific" agriculture. 

Today, work is not only killing us as workers — it is kill- 
ing the planet. All work processes and technologies should 
be evaluated according to their effects on their users, on 
their immediate surroundings, and on the long-term health 
of the biosphere. Last, but definitely not least, production 
must be justified by the intrinsic value it has for human 

"People First!" Means "Nature First!" 

The tendency to romanticize nature while denigrating 
human beings is the greatest impediment Greens face in try- 
ing to organize a mass radical ecological movement. An 
appreciation of the capacity for growth that nature has 
bestowed on humanity is, in contrast, the first step toward 
gaining the support Green politics so richly deserves. Greens 
need to understand the strength of the confining fetters 
wage labor and its attendant materialism impose on hu- 
man thought. Once those fetters are removed, an ethical 
system that encourages creative cooperation between free 
human beings could arise, and human beings could take 
their place as the self-conscious expression of the natural 
system as a whole. 

Strategically, Greens should take advantage of the cul- 
tural crucible city life represents instead of rejecting urbani- 
zation as antiecological. Modern cities, because of their 

A Movement of Substance or Fiber? 

Processed World and friends caused a stir in the miso soup line at 
the "Greening of the West" conference, which attracted over one thousand 
participants (by organizer's estimates). The cartoon shown here accom- 
panied an article in the San Jose Metro, a Silicon Valley weekly. In his 
"Green Eggs and Miso, "journalist Hal Plotkin opened and closed with 
an anecdote featuring an unnamed PWct- (Lucius Cabins) lamenting the 
strictly vegetarian menu at the outdoor cafeteria. (While not explicitly 
banning meat, the conference issued restrictions on tobacco and alcohol 
consumption.) During the week following the conference, and exchange 
satirizing the gathering's "vegetable hegemony" appeared over an elec- 
tronic mail "net" at a large Silicon Valley electronics corporation. In the 
subsequent issue q/ Metro, a reader attacked journalist Plotkin for 
"trivializing" the conference. The letter claimed that the gathering "was 
not about miso soup, magic mushrooms or discrimination against meat 
eaters; rather, it was a celebration of the continued growth of a spirited 
movement whose time has come. " 

In fact, many of us felt excluded by much of the discussion, if not the 
conference, which lacked the sense of hope and especially the energy of a 
movement. Standing firmly by our meat preferences (actually, we're 
omnivores; our beef is not with vegetarian diets but with vegetarians 
whose politics preclude carnivores), we retreated on Saturday evening to 
a picnic site (in"McDonald" State Park) outside the conference where 
we roasted our steaks, chops, sausages, and breasts and talked about 
our desires for an urban-based green gathering: a "Wannabe Green" 
conference. — £) H. 

concentration of people with diverse backgrounds, provide 
unparalleled opportunities for the development and dis- 
semination of new ideas. Besides being cultural centers, 
metropolitan areas are also economic centers. They are 
where the exploitative relationship between humans and 
nature originates. Only urban workers have the power to 
seize control of the work machine and stop it from rolling 
over the Earth, ourselves, and all living things. 

Fortunately, past workers' movements provide a rich 
legacy of antihierarchical forms and ingenious tactics: 
direct democracy, coordination by recallable delegates, slow- 
downs, sabotage, occupations . . . The popular backing the 
new left received in the sixties demonstrated the enormous 
appeal libertarian ideas have in this country while in the 
eighties, the forces of liberty are on the rise from Moscow 
to Manila, Seoul to Soweto. The Green movement des- 
perately needs this rebellious energy. To become more than 
a marginal force. Greens have to realize that respect for 
nature and human liberation go hand in hand. 






"It's like if I see a fat, ugly girl walking down the 
street in an Esprit sweatshirt. I don't want that kind of 
Doug Tompkins, co-owner of Esprit. 

"These are not clothes for people who sit behind 
desks every day and hate their jobs." 
Tom Direnzo, Esprit outlet manager. 

The substance of fashion is in its perception. The 
designer sees the design refracted through the con- 
sumers' eyes. The world of fashion is also one of 
contradictions and illusion. Ordinary people doing 
ordinary things become extraordinary; advertisement 
and ideology become blurred. Dreams and dollars 
collide and scatter new fashions and forms in their 

A case in point is Esprit de Corp. It is a dream: of its 
owners — or perhaps the label "parents" better describes 
Doug and Susie Tompkins — its consumers and the 
fashion oracles. It practices what it preaches aind it 
never never tells the truth. 

Which came first: The current marital problems of 
the Esprit owners or the divergent views of the 
company's product? This is perhaps a conundrum on 
the order of the egg and the chicken, for the polarity of 
their relation has to all accounts been part and parcel 
of both success aind failure. 

The company is virulently anti-union, a feeling 
dating back to the Tompkins' creation of the Great 
Chinese American Sewing Co. in San Francisco. 
Following an ILGWU attempt at organizing, the 
Tompkins fired a worker who signed a union card, and 
then closed the plant entirely. The union won a law 
suit (after 10 years) and collected $1.25 million in back 
wages. Since then. Esprit has relocated its production 
to offshore trade zones. Apparendy the workers who 
actually produce the clothes are excluded from the 
mandate of former Senior Vice President Thomas 
Moncho: "It's a sin here not to develop your potential." 

Esprit retail clerks must look elsewhere for develop- 
ment subsidies: the hourly wage (in 1987) at the SF 
store (gross sales of $20 million) is a munificent 
$5.00 — down from $5.50! The salesworkers are sold 
discounted shirts, but are required to wear black slacks 
and dark socks and shoes. 

The designers of image, however, fared better — the 
corporate headquarters boasts many amenities, as well 
as subsidized vacations and the use of company 
facilities. Perhaps the method to this discrimination is 
found in the effort to shape The Image, which is 
everything in this business. 

The image began to tarnish in late 1986, as 
problems emerged. Said one observer, "Suddenly 
Esprit ran into this incredible wall of consumer 
resistance." Although sales remained flat, profits fell 
by 80. The expansion into retail stores foundered; 
overseas sales were doing well (in places like Chile), 
but remitted insufficient funds to the home office. 
There have been wholesale replacements of personnel 
at senior levels, the introduction of executives from 
other fashion companies, and a new sales force. With 
the prospect of reduced profits, the company showed 
its professional staff the same courtesies it had 
previously bestowed only on garment workers — a 30 
layoff, wages and bonus reductions, warehouse clos- 
ings, and extensive "perk" rollbacks. Employees now 
buy their own coffee and pay for personal phone calls. 
The days are gone when a manager, considered to be 
"negative and burnt out," would be sent on a European 
trip in the hope that she would conclude that she no 
longer belonged at Esprit. 

According to Susie, "Doug has always known we'd 
get through... he doesn't ever think things will get out 
of his control." 

And control is indeed a central concept here. Says 
Patagonia owner Yvon Chouinard, one of Mr. 
Tompkins' closest friends, "Doug is not an Evel 
Knievel type. Before he jumps, he knows he can do it." 
Behind the "carefree" and "breezy" look of the fashion, 
behind the amicable surroundings and benevolent 
attentions is an overpowering need for domination and 
an almost obsessive attention to detail. 

Page io 




5 He once told his workers, "If I ask you what books 
you've read to stimulate your brains, what adventures 
you've had... what love affair was fulfilling... like good 
coaches, we want answers and actions." Of his alleged 
"septigon" of sexual relationships among Esprit em- 
ployees, according to author Leonard Koren, "He 
believes that if you want to harness [sic] the entire 
employee, you have to engage the entire being." Could 
it be the emperor of old fashioned harassment and 
self-indulgence dressed up in new age clothes? 

Management style differs as much as Image man- 
agement, with Ms. Tompkins favoring a more "career" 
look, maturing the line with the customer. Says she, 
"I'm the product person and that's what I fight for." 
She professes to have outgrown the leisure lifestyle, 

and she is deeply concerned with AIDS and the 
homeless (wouldn't it be "nice" if her concern extended 
to Esprit's far-flung employees?). 

Mr. Tompkins continues to look to youth as the icon 
of fashion and sex. He prefers the vision of Esprit's 
photographer Olivero Toscani, saying "This company 
will never have a career orientation. Will I listen to 
Toscani before I listen to Susie? You bet. He's the 
image maker and she isn't." 

Said Corrado Federico, chief operating officer of 
Esprit's flagging fortunes, "You can have all the image 
and panache in the world, but without substance forget 
it." Substance, in the world of fashion? 

Come with us now into the twilight between image 
and reality. — by P. Morales 

The chic tanned receptionist took in 
my surplus pea coat and weathered 
boots with disdainful curiosity, wonder- 
ing what might possess this rustic in- 
truder to pose as a new employee of 
Esprit De Corp., San Francisco's home- 
grown fashion capital. Indeed I felt 
none too sure myself My career plans 
hardly included typing business letters 
for the trendsetter of flashy fashions for 
the 1980's. But as I explained to the 
young woman, I was a mere transient in 
the church of trendiness having been 
taken aboard as a temporary word 

Once admitted to the inner sanctum, 
I saw immediately that the creator of 
Esprit had no love of things convention- 
al. Esprit is the mission control of haute 
couture: a cathedral-like assemblage of 
glass walls and redwood beams; every 
chair made of wicker and every desk 
made of oak; and resting appropriately 
atop each, state-of-the-art computers ot 
all shapes and sizes. 

Yet Esprit is far more than bold 
architecture — it is a sort of corporate 
Utopia. It boasts its own gourmet cafe, a 
greenhouse, a small park, even a lawn 
tennis court (the only one in Northern 
California). On its walls hangs perhaps 
the world's foremost collection of Amish 
quilts, as well as exhibits of photos from 
exotic lands. To keep all this impeccable 

and orderly. Esprit hires full-time 
landscapers, carpenters, even an archi- 
tect or two. And moving gracefully 
through this stylish complex like bright- 
colored tropical fish are the Esprit execu- 
tives themselves: predominantly healthy 
lithe, nubile, young women, attired in 
bold, modern styles and chic Italian 
shoes (to keep them healthy, lithe and 
nubile Esprit employs a full-time fitness 

As if to cement my first impressions, 
my smiling Esprit coworkers happily 
informed me that all the rave media 
reviews (Newsweek , Us Magazine, and so 
forth) of Esprit are true. I was told that 
Esprit is a progressive company that 
cares about its workers; that it hires 
diverse, "international" people; that it 
believes in health and youthful vigor; 
and that it is a darn fun place to work 
where employees dress and act just as 
they wish (so long as they're stylish). 
And what's more 'exciting'— Esprit is on 
the verge ot becoming a fashion empire 
like Levi-Strauss. In addition to some 
2,000 San Francisco employees. Esprit 
has set up shop in over twenty foreign 

But the more I saw, the more doubt- 
ful I became. Whisk aside the sacchar- 
ine Esprit public relations and you find 
something quite unglamorous: an old- 
fashioned, anti-union, anti-worker 

company run by a man who discrimin- 
ates against the old and unattractive, 
who has no qualms about doing business 
in South Africa and Chile, and whose 
success is based on paying slave wages to 
foreign textile workers. 

The spiritual and financial force be- 
hind Esprit is Doug Tompkins, the 
45-year old president and owner (along 
with wife Susie) of the company. Baby- 
faced, silver-haired, trim and tanned, he 
seems the distillation of the Esprit ideal: 
fun-loving, lighthearted, yet success- 
oriented. In keeping with Esprit's Tit- 
ness' consciousness, he spends only 
about halt the year on the job. The rest 
of the time he jaunts around the world to 
climb mountains, run rapids, and con- 
sort with other high-powered fashion 
industry types. 

Yet like most everything else at 
Esprit, the real Doug Tompkins sharply 
contrasts with the image of Doug 
Tompkins. Doug master-minded the 
image of the friendly, happy Espriter, 
yet he remains aloof and enigmatic to 
his workers. Most Espriters refer to him 
as "Doug," but few know him well 
enough to say hello. He occasionally 
dines with upper-echelon employees, 
but he scarcely notices the rank and file, 
and he smiles only in photographs. His 
employees reason that the pressures of 
the industry keep him preoccupied. In 


Page 11 

any event, most agree that his diffidence 
is surely not symptomatic of low self- 

Despite the fact that Doug spends 
little time at Esprit, he controls the 
cosmetic details of the premises with 
totalitarian fervor. Doug demands final 
approval of any new furnishings, light- 
ing, even small accessories like typing 

Another cosmetic detail to which Doug 
pays inordinate attention is hiring poli- 
cy. When I first arrived at Esprit, I 
asked a coworker why everyone looked 
under 21. She shrugged, assuring me 
that many were closer to 25 (she herself 
was 19). Almost without exception Es- 
prit hires the bright, cheery-faced young 
people you might see in Club Med ads. 
It is easy to imagine that Esprit manu- 
factures its cute employees in Hong 
Kong right alongside its cotton v-necks 
and acetate skirts. The assembly line 
does not, however, tend to produce 

many blacks, hispanics or middle-aged 

Whatever their age or race, the compa- 
ny treats all workers the same: like 
children. High-heeled shoes are banned 
(ostensibly they could damage the wood- 
en floor); workers are forbidden to 
bring snacks or open beverages near the 
work area (special mugs with hinged lids 
are provided); workers may not wear 
clothing with flashy logos other than 
Esprit, etc. With all the rules. Esprit 
could easily be mistaken for a boarding 
school. On the wall in the cafe hangs a 
framed aphorism that sums up the 
atmosphere of the place; "Please pick up 
after yourself, your mother doesn't work 

In fact, your mother couldn't get a job 
here — she would be too old. But more to 
the point, your mother wouldn't want to 
work at Esprit for fear of breaking her 
neck. It is a good thing indeed that 
Esprit stresses youth and fitness, be- 

cause Espriters must be agile and well 
coordinated to avoid slipping down the 
narrow stairways of polished wood. 
Workers say that Doug refuses to mar 
their treacherous beauty with traction 
strips (just about everyone recalls falling 
down the stairs at least once). 

Likewise, Espriters must be quick- 
witted enough to dodge a glass partition 
now and then (Doug believes in the 
illusion of openness and communication 
among workers, and thus installed glass 
walls. The glass also offers the advan- 
tage of exhibiting Doug's stable of 
colorful employees — rather like a 
Mac/s window display). Visitors at 
Esprit, conspicuous by their clumsiness, 
often see walls materialize within inches 
of their faces, which is usually too late. 

And if invisible walls and slippery stairs 
aren't enough to keep Espriters agile and 
alert, there are the wicker chairs, which 
sounds harmless enough until you have 
sat in one for a day. Only then do you 


Page 12 

realize that Espriters must have espe- 
cially strong backs, since their chairs 
give no support whatsoever. Esprit once 
supplied workers with dull, old office 
chairs but Doug tossed them out in 
favor of the cute but rickety wicker. 
Workers sometimes complain of chronic 
backaches but are promptly reminded 
that at Esprit image is everything. 

Of course, if you think about it, image 
is not everything. It is mere illusion. Yet 
Doug Tompkins and Esprit have bravely 
ventured beyond the realm of image and 
into the realm of the callous. Back in 
1974, a youthful Esprit celebrated its 
puberty by locking out some 125 manual 
workers at the company-owned Great 
Chinese American Sewing Company in 
Chinatown. This magnanimous step 
was taken because the workers wanted 
to join a union. After a lengthy legal 
battle, the National Labor Relations 
Board awarded the workers $1.25 mil- 
lion in back wages. Tompkins, however, 
is not a man who likes being told how to 
run his business. Esprit moved its manu- 
facturing overseas mostly to the Far East 
where workers know their place. 

Doing business in repressive nations 
has subsequently become something of a 
crusade for Tompkins. Not only does 
Esprit conduct a thriving business in 
South Africa and Chile, but Tompkins 
has also launched the "American Free 
Trade Council," an organization that 
lobbies for the lofty principle of, what 
else, free trade. Despite its noble ideals, 
Esprit refuses to comment on any of 
this. Either the company does not wish 


to brag of good works, or its spokesmen 
are fearful of the provision in the 
company manual threatening dismissal 
for any negative statements made to the 

The best way to describe the brave new 
world at Esprit is, in fact, 'see no evil, 
hear no evil.' Whatever its shortcom- 
ings, Esprit continues to be inundated 
with resumes from credulous young 
grads who are attracted to the compa- 
ny's image. Esprit is even now planning 
to build a "campus-like Esprit City" for 
its deserving executives. And Esprit 
continues to present itself as a populist 
organization by using 'real people' in its 
ads (which greatly cuts down on model- 
ing costs). 

Such a real person is Ariel ODonnell, a 
San Francisco waitress who had the 
good fortune of serving Doug and Susie 
one evening. Over the next several days 
she was ushered into the Esprit head- 
quarters for a photography session and 
an interview. Her face appeared in 
Esprit ads in Mademoiselle, Glamour. 
Vanity Fair, Elk and Metropolitan Home. 
The caption in the ads reads: Ariel 
O'Donnell, San Francisco, California. 
Age 21. Waitress/Bartender. Non- 
professional AIDS Educator. Cyclist. 
Art Restoration Student. Anglophile. 
Neo-Feminist. Clearly a model citizen 
of the Esprit Utopia. 

In fact, however, a 1987 issue oi Irnage 
magazine reported O'Donnell's true bi- 
ography like this: "Waitress, bartender 
and cyclist are factual descriptions. 
Non-professioncil AIDS educator and 

neo-feminist, O'Donnell assumes, were 
extrapolations from her interview re- 
mark. 'No longer can we be sexually 
free. We have to be safe. So if I were 
sleeping with someone new, I'd insist he 
use a condom.' An interest in art 
restoration became 'art restoration stu- 

From the perspective of history, all of 
this blurring of reality doesn't really 
matter — Utopias don't usually last long. 
But Esprit is somehow above history. 
With its existence based on a gaseous 
cloud of image. Esprit has proven as 
resilient as superstition itself. Perhaps 
it's time to call an exorcist. 

by Dan Herman 






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Page 14 



"The Nineties are going to be our decade." said 
Rick, over spinach saJad at some too-expensive 
restaurant in Georgetown. 

"I beHeve that," I said. "But first we have to get 
through the Eighties." 

People wonder how I survive — financially, that is. 
It's simple in theory, though complicated in practical 
terms. I live on credit cards. 

I know all America lives on credit cards, but I live 
on (almost) nothing else. I haven't had a full time job 
for four years now. 

Annually I apply for more revolving credit on 
MasterCards (currently I have fifteen). Visas (21), 
Discovers (3), Choices (2), Optimas (2) and other bank 
credit lines that access checks (4). 

At the moment I have $137,550 in unsecured 
revolving credit from American banks. 

At the moment I owe $100,000 to them. 

I also have about $60,000 in CDs, money market 
deposit accounts, savings and checking accounts. 

As long as I keep the credit-mobile going— by 
paying my credit accounts every month and then 
borrowing the money back — and as long as my credit 
limits keep getting raised to meet my needs, I do well. 

Better than most people who work. 

Jerry, a systems analyst at a firm where he's stayed 
on too long— three years — doesn't approve of what I'm 
doing. He and my other friends worry about me. 

"You've got no security," he tells me over dinner — 
angel hair pasta with sun-dried tomatoes — at Marvin 
Gardens on Broadway and West 83rd. 

Jerry's father worked at the post office for forty 
years. Now he plays handball every day. 

"Besides, doesn't it terrify you owing all that 
money?" Jerry asks me. 

"Does it terrify Ronald Reagan to be head of a 
country that has a trillion-dollar debt?" I ask. 

"It's not the same thing," Jerry says. 

I disagree. 

Linda, editor-in-chief of a magazine for weight- 
watching women, tells me, "It all sounds a little 
sleazy," when we meet for brunch at the Fontainebleau 
in Miami Beach. She is in Florida on a stopover to a 
travel writer's tour of Costa Rica. Several times a year 
she gets these free trips from PR agencies, usually in 
exchange for a promise to write an article. 

"I'm actually helping the American economy," I try 
to explain. "They're always worried about consumer 
growth slowing down. It's the consumers who have 
spent enough to make this recovery the longest one 


since World War II. I keep money moving — 
borrowing on cash advances on one Visa, putting the 
money in the bank, paying back a MasterCard... I 
believe I'm behaving quite patriotically." 

Linda doesn't buy it. 

Well, I don't buy much myself, which, in fact, is the 
secret to my plan. I'm very, very cheap. 

Unlike the Yuppies, who are patriotic in consump- 
tion, I hate to buy anything. 

I haven't bought new clothes in several years. I have 
only one pair of running shoes, replaced every fifteen 
months or so at Kinney's. I don't own regular shoes. 
Unlike Jerry, I don't need suits, dress shirts or ties. 

Carlyle, whose "Sartor Resartus" I was forced to 
read a dozen years ago, said one smart thing. To 
enlarge the fraction of life, he explained, you could 
either increase the numerator or decrease the deno- 

My denominator is very low. 

And life really is a fraction, not a whole number. 
Otherwise the Yuppies would be right when they say 
your salary is life's report card. It's not. All numbers, 
even whole numbers, are fractions — the relationship of 
one number to another. 

I figure I'm way ahead of everyone. 

"But you lie when you apply for credit," Jerry says. 
The Fortune 500 corporation that he works for has 
recently been fined several million dollars by the 
federal government. 

Jerry is right. I say I am the Director of Training of 
Information in Motion, Inc. and earn an annual gross 
salary of $103,000. (If I had claimed to be something 
as high as Vice-President, they would have suspected I 
was self-employed — the kiss of death in the credit 

I suppose this is a crime, but I don't care. 

Surviving the Eighties has made me a hardened 
criminal. Like it did to Ivan Boesky, Dennis B. 
Levine, Martin Siegal and the rest of the crowd on 
Wall Street. 

In the summer of 1986, when stories comparing the 
frenzy of greed in this decade with that of the 1920s 
first began to appear, the First National Bank of 
Oklahoma failed. I had a MasterCard with them. 

The bank I owed $1,987.66 to went broke before I 

They were taken over by First Interstate Bank. Now 
I have two MasterCards from First Interstate. 

Since then two more banks I had credit cards with 
have been taken over by other banks to prevent them 
from failing. 

Page 15 

Yes, I was once — literally, once — a re- 
spectable working man. 

I got my first full-time job when I was 
thirty, in 1981. Prior to that, I had had 
numerous menial, minimum-wage jobs, 
and I had taught part-time at ten colleges 
in New York City. Once I taught seven 
courses at four colleges in one semester, 
spending fifteen hours a week grading 
papers on the subway. Then I got sick 
and couldn't work the next term. I had 
no health insurance because my jobs 
were part-time, and I couldn't get un- 
employment insurance because Truro 
still owed me money from a previous 
term; although I hadn't been rehired, I 
was still considered to be working for 

In 1981 I moved to Florida and 
became a full-time, if temporary English 
instructor at a community college. I had 
to teach fifteen hours a week, thirty-nine 
weeks a year. I taught composition and 
remedial writing to twelve sections of 
twenty-eight students each. 

The Florida legislature mandated that 

I keep fifteen office hours a week in 
addition to my teaching hours. They 
also required my students to write 6,000 
words each semester. Our department 
chairman told us to get a clear and 
accurate word count on each paper, 
because eventually the state would get 
around to auditing us. 

Thus, I had to grade 6,000 words for 
each of 140 students during the year, or 
140 five-hundred word themes weekly, 
at five minutes per paper... well, you can 
figure it out. 

In 1981, my annual gross salary was 

I prefer living on credit. 

I was able, by virtue of being a 
full-time employee, to get my first Visa 
from the First National Bank of Atlanta 
with a $700 credit line. Now I have a 
$3,000 credit line from them, or rather 
from the First Atlanta Bank (Delaware), 
N.A., the new owner of my debt. 

Several dozen Visas and Master- 
Cards later, I've learned a lot about the 
banking business. Every month I go to 





the main library in whatever city I'm 
living in and read the month's copies of 
"American Banker'', a daily paper put out 
by the American Bankers Association. 

A few years ago, at a college friend's 
wedding, I was seated with the singles 
and was talking to a guy who was 
counsel to the House Banking Commit- 
tee. In the middle of our conversation, 
he stopped and said, "I thought Mark 
and Amy said you were a writer." 

"I am a writer," I told him. 

"You talk like a banking insider," he 

You can be both, I've discovered. 

I know about the FDIC, the FOMC, 
the FSLIC, the FHLBB, the Office of 
the Comptroller of the Currency, non- 
bank banks, MMDAs and jumbo CDs. 

I know lots about the float. I have 
several accounts at out-of-state banks, 
such as Citibank (South Dakota), N.A.; 
Chase Manhattan Bank U.S.A. in Del- 
aware; Zions First National Bank in Salt 
Lake City; and Virginia Beach Federal 
Savings and Loan (which is not a bank, 
of course, but it really doesn't matter). 

I write checks to myself for thousands 
of dollars and mail them to an out-of- 
state bank for deposit. For example, I 
write myself a $2,500 check on my 
Chase Manhattan money market de- 
posit account and mail it for deposit to 
my Zions money market account. At the 
same time I make out a check for the 
same amount on the Utah account and 
mail it to Delaware. For three days — 
because of the float — Fm credited with 
the $5,000 in both accounts. And I earn 
top interest on it. 

Page 16 


This isn't quite like kiting cliecks, 
which is what E.F. Hutton did. They 
got a slap on the wrist from the federal 
government; at the time E.F. Hutton's 
chairman of the board was the brother- 
in-law of the Vice President of the 
United States. E.F. Hutton, of course, 
disappeared in the wake of Black Mon- 

"But it's not YOUR money," Linda 
and Jerry and Mark and Amy tell me. 

None of the banks know that. 

My favorite activity here in Florida is 
to go to the Publix Supermarket armed 
with a dozen credit cards. Not only does 
their automatic teller machine. Presto, 
give you directions in a pleasant female 
voice, but it hooks up to different 
A.T.M. networks at which my cards are 
valid: Honor, Cirrus, American Ex- 
press, The Exchange, Discover, Choice, 
Metroteller, Star. I take out card after 
card and get the maximum advances 
from each. 

Once I took out $2,000 in cash. 

It looked like my money. 

When I brought it to the bank they 
took it like it was my money. 

They gave me a deposit slip that said 
it was my money. 

It WAS my money. 

Okay, maybe today it's not my mon- 
ey, but nothing is permanent. I've never 
had a permanent, full-time job. Even 
when I was full-time at the community 
college for three years, I was always a 
temporary employee. When I quit, in 
1984, I was making $15,560.94 annual- 
ly. I have more than that in my 
CitiBank (South Dakota) High Interest 
Checking Account right now. 

All the adjunct jobs I had at a dozen 
colleges were temporary. Sometimes 
they were so temporary I got fired after 
the first week of class, when some 
tenured professor decided he didn't feel 
like coming in three days a week, say, 
and wanted to teach on Tuesdays and 

Once I got hired after the term had 
been in progress for a week or two. 

They could not guarantee employ- 
ment for the next term, especially over 
the summer, but they would give you a 
letter saying you were reasonably sure 
of employment if registration was suffi- 
cient—that was another way they keep 
you from collecting unemployment 

Because a lot of morons who go to 
college and take remedial English in the 
fall don't come back in the spring, 
someone always has to be let go. Now 
I always volunteer. "Nonreappoint- 
ment," they call it. I get an of- 
ficial letter in December that says I 
won't be back next term no matter what. 


Then I CAN collect unemployment 

Since 1984, I've spent a total of 108 
weeks collecting unemployment bene- 
fits. Nice work if you can't get it. 

I can live in New York or Washington 
in the fall and teach at three or four 
colleges part-time. They always need 
people for remedial writing or composi- 
tion now. Most of the people who 
started with me, back in 1975, are now 
out of the adjunct business. People like 
Jerry, who have become systems ana- 
lysts earn half of what I tell credit card 
applications I make as a Director Of 
Training -about $50,000. 

But in New York and Washington the 
colleges pay well by the hour, almost 
$40 now, and if you teach remedial ihey 

usually give you four hours' pay for 
three hours' work, because nobody 
wants to teach remedial. The difference 
between "a" and "an" and "and" is 

My department chairmen in New 
York and Washington lay me ofl after 
the fall semester, so in January I head 
for Florida to escape the winter. In May 
I head back up North again. 

In the north over the last few years, 
I've lived in a lot of places. You'd be 
surprised how many Yuppies need to 
rent out their living room sofa beds. An 
old college friend on the Upper West 
Side lives mostly with her boyfriend, but 
we split the rent, and she doesn't mind if 
I stay in her bedroom when she's not 
there. I apartment-sit when people get 

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c 1988 by YoYo McLeod 

Page 17 

jobs out o; town directing a play, or 
teaching or whatever. 

In Washington I've stayed at my 
cousin's apartment near DuPont Circle. 
He works for the FDIC and is out of 
town a lot dealing with failed banks. In 
Florida, you can always get a cheap 
furnished place for the winter season. 
They've overbuilt, and the condo mar- 
ket is glutted. 

I don't own a stick of furniture. Since 
1984 Fve never lived in a room where 
my suitcases (two) weren't out, ready to 

go- ^ 

So don't tell me anything is perma- 

Don't tell the crazy homeless people 
who make the Upper West Side an open 
mental ward. Don't tell my friends who 
got AIDS. Don't tell the Chairmen of 
Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, 
or the President of the New York Stock 

Fve seen Yuppies wearing a T-shirt 
that says WHOEVER HAS THE 

I disagree. To me, whoever OWES 
the most money, wins. 

I intend to die a winner. 

The losers: Citibank, Sears, First 
Interstate, First Adanta, Chemical 
Bank, Mellon Bank, Bank One and the 

Revolving credit is like magic. 

When you pay what you owe, you can 
borrow it again. 


I always pay every credit card bill. 
Sometimes I overpay them. That's what 
I did with my American Express Card, 
which isn't a credit card, of course, but a 
charge card you must pay off in full 
every month. I always paid more thai, 
was due, which is how I got a gold 
American Express card with a $5,000 

line and two Optima Cards with a 
combined credit line of $15,000. I 
showed I had good character. 

Fve seen my credit reports from 
TRW, CBI, and TransUnion, and they 
have no negative information on me, 
although I am listed as the Director of 
Training with Information in Motion, 
Inc. I've never been even thirty days late 
with a payment. Actually, if you're one 
day late on a Visa bill, they count it as 
thirty days with the credit bureaus. 

More magic. 

Of course, it's not all magic. Not all 
my money comes from cash advances 
and credit cards. I do keep teaching, I 
collect unemployment benefits, and oc- 
casionally I sell an article or short story. 
I didn't do too badly in the great bull 
market of the '80s by specializing in 
regional bank stocks. With nationwide 
interstate banking just around the cor- 
ner, there are mergers and takeovers 
like crazy, and banks are paying three 
and four times the book value of other 

It's their money, right? 

Until it's mine. 

It did shock me when I caught this 
cable TV get-rich show featuring a guy 
who billed himself as The Credit Card 

He was doing just what I was doing, 
only he said he was buying houses for no 
money down and investing in art and 
classic cars. 

I figured that for a sucker of an 
English teacher, I wasn't so dumb to 
stumble on this by myself. I didn't have 
to pay the $299 to get the books and 
tapes for The Credit Card Millionaire 

The Credit Card Millionaire was a 
Vietnam veteran and high school drop- 

Unlike him, though, I have contempt 


Page 18 

for money. I see it's not real. I have 
$60,000 in the bank now — maybe 
$70,000 at this very moment — 
according to the banks, because I'm 
playing the float. My friends are half- 
right when they say the money really 
isn't mine. 

The money isn't real at all. But it 
works. Money is now not really a 
medium of exchange or a store of value 
or any of the other things you learn 
about in economics courses. 

Money is just information that you 
have money. 

That's why one of my community 
college night students came in late one 
evening and said it was because he'd 
"lost" a million dollars in the computer. 

And that's why Fm Director of Train- 
ing for Information in Motion, Inc. 

I didn't intend to live like this. 

I won't tell you about the miserable 
minimum wage jobs I had or all the little 
humiliations I faced; everyone has his or 
her own story. My story is your story, if 
you were born in certain years and think 
a certain way. The history is familiar: 
1968 Gene McCarthy & Chicago; 1969 
Woodstock; 1970 Cambodia & Kent 
State & "People's U" & the Tac Squad; 
1971 and John Mitchell's sweeping 
Washington arrests; 1972 Miami as a 
alternate delegate for McGovern; 1973 
Watergate and graduation into a world 
in which all the rules had changed. 

I knew it would be hard to get 
through the Eighties, so I changed some 
rules myself. But did it matter? Did I 
really hurt anyone or anything in the 
long run? In the 1990s— "our decade," 
as Rick called it — will anyone care? 

Stay tuned. 

And keep those minimum payments 
coming in. 

by Gary Richardson 



Credit cards and collections in America 

// is next to impossible to become as indifferent or brutal as 

the system in which one is caught. . .After a day thus spent, the 

working-man has one complaint which is meaningless to anyone 

who has never experienced this condition: I thought the day 

would never end. 

- Simone Weil, "Factory Work" Essay, 1936 

I work for America's corporate financial thought 
police. I use an alias; you will never know my name. 
When you miss payments on your Mastercard or Visa, 
I send you letters. I am the one who calls you at home 
or at your work. I am the one who decides to accept 
arrangements for payment, to refer your account to a 
collections agency, or to sue you. I can set in motion 
an investigation which could result in your arrest. My 
words and actions carry the weight of an immense and 
faceless bureaucracy. What I do can affect your 
employment, your ability to purchase a home or an 
automobile, to borrow money or rent an apartment, 
for up to ten years. 

I have worked in the collections area of a major 
bank's credit-card division for several years. How I 
found myself there is a story in itself: suffice to say I 
am trying, very hard, to get out. As a consumer- 
survivalist and as a worker, I want to pass on 
something of what I've learned — part observation, part 
cautionary tale. In order to survive financially in the 
America of the 1990's and beyond, you need to 
understand how the credit card system works. Come 
with me into the Ministry of Truth for a little tour; 
but, please leave your ethical outrage at the door. 

To finance growth in an increasingly competitive 
marketplace, America's corporate banks continue to 
rely on credit cards as the most lucrative aspect of their 
business portfolios. With the deregulation of banking 
in the early 1990's, the hunt for new customers will 
lead to more unsecured lines of credit being offered to 
consumers, causing them to juggle even more debt. 

Surviving in America's mainstream in the last 
quarter of the Twentieth Century proves the idea that 
access to credit is more than a privilege. It is a 
necessity. We live in a consumer society, whose raison 
d'etre is the purchase of goods and services. This 
society is totailly dependent on the lobotomizing dazzle 
of marketing to convince us that we should want to go 
into debt. A culture doesn't produce such sardonic 
quips as: "You are what you owe"; "When the going 
gets tough, the tough go shopping"; "He who dies with 


the most toys wins"; or, "Can I pay for my Visa with 
my Mastercard?", without being aware of the symbio- 
sis between reaching for the brass ring of the American 
Dream, and the price of admission to stay seated on 
the consumer merry-go-round. 

To remain competitive in the credit-card market 
and make the issuing of plastic profitable banks must 
limit the losses they suffer through default, fraud and 
bankruptcy. Fraud is taken seriously, not only from 
the standpoint of criminality, but because all charges 
proven as fraudulent can be decleired a business loss 
and deducted as a write-off on the corporate taxes. 
Litde can be done about bankruptcies. The number of 
personal bankruptcies increases each year. The largest 
problem for banks is delinquent credit-card payment. 
The bank's only answer to that problem is the 
collections department. 

In a windowless office occupying the entire floor of a 
building near a major metropolitan area, separated by 
beige-colored dividers, some two hundred people sit 
down to work each morning at eight a.m. (seven a.m. 
if they are calling to the east coast). With a headset 
plugged into one ear, hunched forward to stare at a 
CRT, we begin another day of calling people for 
payment; within five minutes, the noise from scores of 
conversations rises to just below a dull roar and 
remains there for the rest of the day. I must process 
over one hundred accounts per day. My work is 
monitored on a daily basis — so many accounts per hour. 
Of these accounts, I must contact a minimum of three 
out of every ten people. If I fall below any production 
level, consistendy, I will be fired. 

Any collections environment for a bank is an image 
out of Fritz Lang's Metropolis: a dull, focused place 
where windows might as well be walls, and routine 
tasks are performed over and over, day upon day until 
the weeks begin to blur. The collectors are effectively 
chained by their production requirements to their 
CRTs for seven-and-a-half hours a day, with time off 
(who can truly rest in the place where they do a job 
they dislike?) for lunch or a short break. The only 
variation in their routine lies in the calls they 
make— each one different, every conversation a glimpse 
into a life beset with problems not unlike our own. 
That contact should, ideally, end by resolving the debt 
in the banks' favor. The bottom line of the whole 
deadening experience is: get the money. 


That resolution could be handled in a 
businesslike manner. More often than 
not talking to people in debt becomes a 
contest of wills. The nature of collec- 
tions work is a parent-and-child con- 
frontation; the debtor plays the part of 
the guilty youngster and the collector 
plays the part of superego. Collections 
departments actively seek persons who 
are adept at this kind of manipulation. 
Psychologically Americans tie their 
money directly to their self-esteem and 
collectors know it. Shame is the greatest 
weapon in the collector's verbal arsenal. 

The same people who are gifted at 
manipulation (usually referred to as 
"negotiation skills") often use their posi- 
tions to vent their own self-loathing and 
anger on the people they contact. They 
badger, taunt and even humiliate people 
into paying their debts. They frighten 
debtors with the specter of litigation and 
bankruptcy. All this is reinforced 
through the basic attitudes of other 
collectors — an "us-versus them" outlook. 
The job is deadly boring and incredibly 
stressful. The eye of your manager is 
never far from your shoulder (his job, 
too, depends on your performance). As 
a result of these conditions, the way 

people handle money is equated with a 
person's value. 

Having depersonalized debtors, it's a 
simple thing to begin screaming at 
them. After a long and sarcastic shout- 
ing match, a collector near my cubicle 
slammed his phone down and then sat 
back with a huge grin. "Boy do I feel 
better," he bubbled. "I think I'll sue this 
bitch." Customers who call to complain, 
asking for a supervisor, may end up in a 
second confrontation with the same 
collector, or may talk to another collec- 
tor who declares herself or himself to be 
a supervisor. Managers turn a blind eye 
to this. Their own time is consumed by 
projects and paper work and they would 
rather not have to soothe an irate caller 
for half an hour. Even if the angry 
customer manages to reach a supervi- 
sor, the collector will not be fired or 
even reprimanded. Business, after all, is 

The truth is very few people go into 
debt with the idea of taking the banks to 
the cleaners. They all seem to be seeking 
a better life — which in this culture is 
achieved through consumer spending. 
They have simply overspent themselves 
or suffered a sudden misfortune — loss of 

a job, a second income, injury, illness, a 
divorce or tax problems. Next to "I am 
doing the best I can," the phrase I have 
heard the most often is, "I didn't plan for 
this to happen, you know." 

To the collector this is useful infor- 
mation, but it makes no difference. I 
listened to one woman berating a man 
for ten minutes demanding to know why 
he couldn't pay (it was hard not to hear 
her, as she was shouting into her 
phone). She slammed her receiver into 
its cradle after telling the man she would 
search for any assets he might own and 
recommend that our bank sue him. The 
man called back asking to complain to a 
supervisor. I took the call. We spoke for 
twenty minutes. I ended by apologizing 
for the bank and, also, as a human 
being. The man had AIDS and was 
about to be hospitalized. I checked the 
account several months ago and found 
he had died. His account was marked 
"Deceased" and placed in the bank's Net 
Credit Loss file. 

In addition to basic attitudes toward 
money and self- worth, the collections 
business reinforces class, racial and 
sexucd biases. "Check this out," a collec- 
tor said to me, waving a hand at the 

Page 20 


account on his CRT screen. "Another 
rude Chicago nigger and he owes us six 
thousand. Living over his head, proba- 
bly doing crack." This same "nigger" 
was a neurosurgeon going through a 
divorce. There are few black or hispanic 
collectors in our office. However, even 
they talk about their own racial groups, 
if they are debtors, as lazy or trying to 
get something for nothing. Women who 
work as collectors are frequently un- 
sympathetic to their debtor sisters. 

A collections department is organized 
to handle a bank's receivables (credit 
cards from zero days past due through 
six or more months gone). There are 
also specialty areas to handle accounts 
still valid and over their credit limit, 
bankruptcies, deceased, numerous bad 
checks, over-seas accounts and those 
marked for special handling (the ac- 
counts of wealthy or famous persons or 
political figures). 

The accounts are held in the bank's 
computer system. These accounts can 
be accessed by collectors regardless of 
their status. Friends? Enemies? Par- 
ents? If they have the bank's plastic, 
they're in the system along with their 
addresses, telephone numbers, social 
security numbers and other informa- 

What follows is the general sequence 

Tuesday, 8:57 am 

I've consulted my files . . .the usual suspects 
£ to be rounded up for debtor's prison. Just 
< anottier day on the job, here in the 

'^ fluorescent desert. 

of collections action as accounts sink 
towards write-off which occurs when an 
account becomes seven months past 
due. The account is added to the Net 
Credit Loss column at seven months 
past due. All collection activity is de- 
signed to prevent as many accounts as 
possible from reaching this stage. 

From one to two months past due. 

you will receive an automatic notice 
with your bill that you are delinquent 
— a friendly reminder. At two months 
past due, you will receive a call, asking 
if you had overlooked the payment. 

At three months, the account is 
reported delinquent to TRW, CBI and 
Chilton's — the three major credit bu- 
reaus in the United States. At four 
months past due, you begin receiving 
messages at your home or office, dun- 
ning letters every two weeks and calls 
every three or four days. The tone here 
is darker. There is talk of litigation, 
wage garnishment or levy. Attachment 
of assets is suggested. 

Five months past due is more of the 
same. Here you can expect to meet the 
borderline disfunctionals, the shouters 
and the growlers whose lives and stom- 
achs are wastelands corroded with bad 
coffee and bile. 

At six months past due, most collec- 
tors (in order to keep the account from 
being written off) will try to reason with 
you. Suddenly, their attitude may 
change from Freddy Krugger to your 
favorite uncle. However, if you make an 
arrangement with Uncle and break it, 
Freddy will return. The talk of "lawsuit" 
and "collection agency" are now quite 
real. If the account writes off, the bank 
doesn't forget it, or you. It is assigned to 

A Short History of Credit Cards 

Credit cards were first offered by 
banks in 1963. At the time, credit 
was a radical idea — allowing a cus- 
tomer to charge a purchase, with the 
merchant reimbursed by the bank. 
When the idea seemed tested, the 
American Banker's Association 
(known simply as "The Associa- 
tion") founded Visa and MasterCard 
as trademarked names, and devel- 
oped centrahzed operations for vali- 
dation and purchase authorization. 
ABA member banks could issue cre- 
dit cards through the association, 
but at a cost: banks must put up 
what amoimts to a surety bond to 
cover the cost of carrying the new 
credit cards in their computers and 
for other support services. There is 
also a fee for use of a trademark 
name, the use of which has to be 
approved by the ABA. These factors 
effectively keep many smaller banks 
out of the credit card game. 

In the mid-1970's, New York- 
based Citibank began to make major 
offerings of credit cards to custom- 
ers on a scale that made its competi- 
tors laugh. The risks involved in 


what amounted to a credit giveaway 
were large; Citibank appeared to be 
violating the basic tenet of the bank- 
ing industry: You do not make loans 
without guaranteed repayment. Ci- 
tibank was relying on its marketing 
division, which (like any major bank 
today) develops or purchases lists of 
potential customers from such eso- 
teric sources as the subscription Usts 
of Esquire, Forbes or Reader's Di- 
gest. Citibank's competitors expect- 
ed them to to fall on their faces and 
take losses commensurate with what 
was seen as an unacceptable risk. 
The New York bank, however, did 
not stumble. Its gamble paid off very 
well. Other banks began trying to 
catch up, to gain their share of the 
consumer market, and the great 
Credit Card Sweepstakes was born. 

The idea, once heretical, is now 
gospel. The greater the number of 
credit cards you offer, the greater 
the potential for profit from the 
interest on that mass of floating 
debt. One industry source estimates 
that Citibank (the leader in the 
bankcard industry) has issued over 
twelve billion dollars worth of plas- 
tic credit. Even if customers have 

only spent ten billion of that availa- 
ble credit, at 19.a annual interest 
that means a gross profit of nearly 
two billion dollars a year. As dere- 
gulation approaches, the battle 
vdthin the corporate financial com- 
munity for larger "market shares" 
of the credit card industry will 

The dark side of this picture is the 
nature of the loans being offered. 
They are imsecured. If a customer 
decides to default, the banks cannot 
recoup some of their losses through 
repossession or forced sale as they 
can with auto or real estate loans. 
America's banks may have as much 
as 150 to 200 million dollars in 
imsecured debt floating on plastic 
with more planned in the future. A 
major recession could result in 
himdreds of thousands of defaulting 
credit card holders. The Stock Ex- 
change of the late 1920's collapsed 
due to speculative buying, "on the 
margin," without adequate capital 
to pay for what was purchased, and 
without investor safeguards... very 
much like buying with a credit card, 
by HoroJd Tuttie 

Page 21 

Moir/The Bulletin/Sydney 

"Frankly, Mrs. Pilkins, it'll be a lot easier for you to pay the 
$27,300 telephone bill than it will for us to find the mistake." 

the recovery area and the pressure 
becomes even worse. 

The numbers game and the willing- 
ness of banks to give credit cards does 
work in your favor as long as you're 
current in your payments. But, how do 
you get a credit card, or more than one, 
in the first place? The chances are good 
that by doing nothing the banks will 
come to you. In your mailbox you may 
find a letter from Chase Manhattan 
Bank, or Citibank, or American Ex- 
press with the words "pre-approved" 
sprinkled through it. Fill out the appli- 
cation and send it in. If you've lived at 

the same address for three years or 
more, worked at the same job for at least 
two years or more, and can claim an 
income of $20,000.00 or more, you will 
probably receive a card within three 
weeks of returning the application. 

Solicitations by mail are, along with 
applications by customers, the prime 
method to generate new cardholders. As 
mentioned earlier, how a bank's mar- 
keting department determines who to 
solicit is anything from esoteric to 
harebrained. Occasionally, banks will 
perform a test solicitation by sending 
pre-approved applications to everyone 

in a specific zip code who has lived there 
at least one year. Several banks targeted 
the baby-boomer or yuppie market for 
solicitation in the early to mid-1980's. 
Most of these new customers liked 
having credit and overextended them- 
selves in droves. 

From my own experience, if you C2in 
get along with no credit cards, or one 
with a small credit line, do it. The 
industry that created the idea of plastic, 
and will foster its growth into the next 
century, is dependent upon our greed as 
much as its own. The siren's song of the 
American Dream is, for most of us, a 
greedy tune played on the calliope of a 
merry-go-round. You can get on, but is 
it worth the cost to ride? 

by Harold Tattle 


Truth or Consequences 

A word of caution: using fraudu- 
lent information to secure lines of 
credit is a crime. If you fudge a bit 
on an application for a Visa with a 
$1,200 credit line, even if the bank 
discovered it, the likelihood you 
would be prosecuted is akin to the 
college of cardinals electing a Jew- 
ish pope. However, if you use false 
information on multiple accounts 
with different banks and are found 
out, if and when the accounts fall 
delinquent, you are in serious hot 
water. Even then, if the total amount 
you owe on all the accounts is ten 
thousand dollars or less, the banks' 
security and fraud divisions may ask 
you to sign a statement admitting 
your actions and promising to pay 
the money back — generally on the 
same terms as if the accounts had 
never fallen delinquent. 

If you owe $25,000 or more, the 
chances of prosecution are good — 
and not by the banks. As of January 
1, 1988, all banks must report any 
and all fraud charges to the FBI, 
Secret Service and Treasury De- 
partment as a method of keeping 
banks accountable for the fraud 
charges they will latter declare as 
business losses. I have handled sev- 
eral cases in the bank where, when 
informed of high dollar amount 
fraudulent applications the U.S. At- 
torney's office in my area had crimi- 
nal complaints sworn against the 
individuals involved. Two went to 
prison; another was placed on proba- 

— H. Tuttle 


Page 22 


^» >»r ! « ■ > ^X ^■<* 


by Bruce Jacobson 

Here's how I spent my formative years. 
I studied economics. Directly 
from college to an Ivy League M.B.A. 
A precocious twenty-two year old 
trained to think like the Chairman. 
I assessed my strategic position: 
grew a mustache and got married. 
Figured employers would think I was 

And they did. And I worked 
to fill the vacancy within 
sixty-plus hours per week 
for five consecutive years. 
I gained and I lost. 
I gained: weight 
to fill the vacancy within 
ballooned up to two hundred pounds 
until I was almost as fat as 
my boss. 

He took a liking to me. 

My wife complained I wasn't home much 


to fill the vacancy within 

she would run to the 

nearest upscale department store 

buying things I couldn't afford: 

clothes, furniture, 

phone calls to her mother. 

who had inherited 

two point three million dollars 

from a chain of movie houses in Phoenix. 

Boarding schools in europe, a home in 

Hillsborough and a condo in Palm Springs. 

My father-in-law lived there 

a back-slapping-salesman-type 

with a big heart and clogged arteries. 

At family dinners, my mother-in-law 

held court, and made pronouncements. 

Like when she announced that 

millionaires were real men. 

My father-in-law was silent, 

my wife was surprised 

at how little salary I made. She said 
you don't even make fifty thousand. 
With each department store bill 
I pitched a fit. Until finally 
to fill the vacancy within 
I took her credit cards away. 
She cried alligator tears 
then for a month or so everything seemed 

The stores were letting her spend anyhow. 

My boss noticed I seemed a little tense 

so he sent my wife and I to 

an all-expenses-paid weekend at Caesar's 

Las Vegas. He felt good 

about solving my problem, so good 

that I received a promotion. 

I gained and I lost. I became 
Vice President at one of 
America's major economic think-tanks. 
Began traveling all around the world. 
I was on a D.C.-Philly turnaround when 
my mother-in-law came to town 
and took my wife away. But 
the new job was quite prestigious. 
I made predictions on 
the nation's most critical economic issues. 
Corporations took them seriously because 
they paid thousands of dollars. 
I was 26 years old and 
had achieved a truly respectable 

Found love and affection at 
the candy counter of 7-11. 
One day on the plane from Paris 
a beautiful French stewardess 
took me to her hotel. When I 
took off my clothes 
I couldn't see over my 
wallet. A few days later 
I was walking down a street 
in a strange city. Something like 
Cleveland or Houston or Atlanta 
and burst into spontaneous tears. 
Later, that day, in a meeting 
some asshole said something 
and on an impulse of truth like when 
anger becomes faith 
I walked into my boss's office 
and quit. 

I gained and I lost. 

My appetite grew healthy 

for sex. But I lost thousands of 

hours of unpaid overtime. 

Yesterday I saw a headline 

in the business page. 

One of my predictions 

came true. Income, expenses, decline. Today 

I write poems and live with a stripper 

the daughter of an economist. 

Her happy little nipples create more income 

than I ever will. 

Last night I woke up in a sweat. 

I dreamed that the system went on without me 

I dreamed that it mattered. 


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"// hardly matters what I buy, I just get a kick out of buying. 
It's like that first whiff of cocaine. It's euphoric and I just get 
higher and higher as I buy. " 

— Silicon Valley shopper 

If conspicuous consumption is a distinguishing trait 
of industrializing societies, compulsive shopping is a 
still-evolving mutant strain today. The frenzied con- 
sumer purchase of the 1980s proceeds on borrowed 
funds and in blissful ignorance of need. In Silicon 
Valley, shopping resembles a mass therapy for the 
ennui of work-centered lives shorn of spontaneity and 
saturated with stress, a recoil from work's discontents 
as powerful as the attraction to work itself. 

Compulsive shopping is not peculiar to Silicon 
Valley although it was here that marketing developed 
the most widely used modern advertising techniques. 
It is also here that the divorce of purchase from need 
unfolds as rapidly as anywhere else. "Shop Till You 
Drop," the theme of a Silicon Valley service that buses 
patrons from workplace parking lots to shopping 
outlets, suggests both the allure and the aimlessness of 
shopping. In a grotesque parody of George Romero's 
Dawn of the Dead, we wander through malls, purchasing 
on credit nothing in particular. 

Shopping has become a fling from the discipline of 
daily time-management strategies that rule work, 
commuting and most other activities. For many, 
shopping makes the discipline endurable. "Just the 
thought of shopping makes me feel better," proclaims 
the modern working mother. The shopping oppor- 
tunity is not always a cheap or an effective escape, but 
it is certainly a ready one. America now looks to it 
(more frequently than to vacation travel) for a new and 
flirtatious experience beyond the stunted sociality and 
sameness of its sprawled habitats. But compulsive 
consumption caters to fleeting urges that no commodi- 
ty can satisfy for long. In this, shopping is assigned a 
mission from which it cannot help but return empty- 

Taking Charge 

The shopper's riotous affairs with impulse and credit 
have become commonplace. When researchers asked 


over 34,000 mall shoppers their primary reason for a 
visit, only 25 percent responded that they had come to 
shop for a specific item. Other studies suggest that half 
or more of all hardware and grocery items are 
purchased on "impulse." Whim and novelty, not 
replacement of broken appliances, now guide most 
houseware purchases. 

Like the imagery advertising so deftly attaches to 
fashion commodities, the wherewithal for the shopping 
expedition is borrowed. An explosion of consumer 
credit has heated up the retail economy and placed it 
on precarious footing. In 1988, with personal savings 
at all-time lows, nonmortgage debt approaches $600 
biflion, up five times from that of 1960. With the force 
of Pavlovian association, one study observes, people 
are willing to pay far more for commodities when they 
see a picture of a credit card near a cash register. 
Advances in electronic funds transfers, making pos- 
sible instant credit approval and extension, have taken 
the governor off the circulation of consumer credit. 

The same banks that are overextended in Mexico 
and South America now court the American consum- 
er. Banks derive upwards of 30 percent of their total 
profits from their credit card divisions, and at interest 
rates that our grandparents would consider usurious. 
Roughly 60 percent of credit card holders use them as 
informal, openended, and often spontaneous loans. As 
shoppers sink into debt, they are rewarded with fresh 
lines of credit. The least examined and perhaps most 
profound effect of credit card debt is the tightening of 
ties to one or more jobs (which secures the isolation, 
stress, and time "crunch" that the new shopping caters 

As the widening channels of credit expand venues 
for consumption, the shopping center adds conve- 
nience: one-stop shopping for those on time-starved 

Through a delicate web of investments, finance 
capital has made shopping easy on a scale and in 
densities that have no parallel in the annals of 
merchandising. Regional malls, in search of higher 
shopper densities, add retail outlets exponentially. 
Silicon Valley malls expand by up to 60 stores at a 
time. Shopping center proprietors "position" their 
retail outlet mix in wars of patronage. Mall mergers 
have occurred. 

Page 26 


Through this frenzied retail invest- 
ment, the consumer marketplace articu- 
lates itself in complex, often senseless 
segmentation. Consumers can choose 
bargain club shopping of the warehouse 
outlet, the nostalgic shopping of the flea 
market, the haute shopping of the bou- 
tiques, and everything in between — in- 
cluding a hierarchy of special label shops 
and designer ministores-within-stores. 
Likewise, shopping diversifies its appeal 
by privatizing family consumption pat- 
terns. In contrast to the practical family 
shopping of frugal spouses in the 1950's, 
women and men alike, as well as teenage 
girls and boys, shop for and by them- 
selves more than ever before. 

More than any other public place, the 
closed space of the privately owned mall 
is where America congregates. By 1987, 
over 70 percent of adults were visiting a 
regional mall weekly, a frequency that 
was surpassed in Silicon Valley, where 
shopping density at some malls is nearly 
50 percent higher than the national 

Since so many of the habitats lack a 
town center, a village square, or a 
commons, it is hardly surprising that 
people regularly visit malls. The shop- 
ping center is the new commons. With 
the deployment of malls throughout 
urban, suburban, and rural landscapes, 
however, America's municipal squares 
and public footpaths recede. Transmo- 
grified into a fantasy preserve of com- 
modities where the homeless, opposi- 
tional politics, and unconventional be- 
haviors are checked by armed security 
at the door, the mall has brought civil 
society a long way toward incorporation 
within the meta-circuitry of capital. 
Disturbing Urgency 

Shopping's urgency is transposed into 
a disturbing priority in the condensed 
schedules of the 1980s. Each week, 

adults average six hours of shopping, far 
more than the 40 minutes spent playing 
with children or the hour spent garden- 
ing or reading books. Teens spend more 
time at malls than anywhere else except 
school and home and are probably 
envied for it: what some working wom- 
en want even more than free time 
during the day is longer shopping hours, 
a survey suggests. 

Before, after, or between work, peo- 
ple rush to transact purchases: some 
shop via catalog, and phone in their 
mail orders from their workstatir -s. 
During work, they chat about or pri- 
vately plan fresh purchases. ("For Sale" 
items clog the electronic mail networks 
at Silicon Valley corporations.) Return- 
ing home, credit-bound shoppers, deep 
in debt but not yet delinquent in their 
monthly payments, receive unsolicited, 
preapproved credit cards through the 
mail. In 1988, the Wall Street Journal 
proclaimed, "Shoppers' behavior has 
been a major driving force for the 
economy and has made shopping, argu- 
ably, the nation's favorite pastime next 
to television-watching." 

Whatever draws people to shopping 
centers has less and less to do with 
fulfilling conventional needs. University 
studies have begun to isolate the com- 
pulsive shopper's symptoms. One study 
found that one in three shoppers said 
they regularly experience an irresistible 
compulsion to buy. In another, four out 
of ten shoppers admitted that their 
closets were filled with unopened items. 
By the mid-1980s, a Silicon Valley 
credit counseling agency was flooded 
with calls from "overspenders" tending 
off bankruptcy. Alarmed and bewil- 
dered, the nation's most influential bus- 
iness journal constructed this national 
profile of the compulsive shopping 

"They don't really need what they are 
shopping for. Often they don't even 
know what they're after. Some buy 
things they never wear or rarely use; 
many buy and then return what they 
bought, then buy again and return 

The report lists six very private 
motivations for shopping. Most, in- 
cluding "alleviating loneliness," "dispel- 
ling boredom," "shopping as an escape," 
"fantasy fulfillment," and "relieving de- 
pression," are borrowed wholesale from 
the vocabulary of psychotherapy. 

Unavoidably, the experts began to 
address the compulsive shopper. Do we 
shop because we need, or do we now 
simply need to shop? According to a 
marketing professor whose research 
identified the most avid shoppers as the 
single, the widowed, and the divorced, 
"Shopping appears to be a substitute for 
a relationship." Silicon Valley credit 
counselors suggest that shopping has 
become a path to instant gratification 
made irresistible by widespread despair 
and loneliness. Shopping, according to a 
psychologist and president of a New 
York consulting firm, "is a lot more than 
simply providing for necessary things. It 
is obviously fulfilling many needs — a lot 
of people don't like to confess that." 

A Berkeley "wellness" newsletter, in 
an article entitled "Mall Mania," advises 
"the compulsive shopper" to lock up 
credit cards, maintain a purchase "dia- 
ry," and "analyze the motives of com- 
pulsive shopping." The doses of therapy 
prescribed escalate: "If unhappiness is 
the cause [of compulsive shopping]. . .a 
support group may help." But "if self- 
help doesn't work, the shopper... should 
consider psychotherapy." 

The bill has come in for the flat new 
suburban culture of Silicon Valley in the 
1980s — the homogeneous isolation of 




Pi?n{ivc (j\o^<.e 

Page 27 

the ranch style subdivision, the condo- 
minium theme park, amd the landscaped 
apartment complex. Hotly pursued for 
their safety or reclusion, these post- 
urban habitats until recently secured a 
slight reduction in street crime com- 
pared to that of city-block neighbor- 
hoods. But drug dependencies, divorc- 
es, and time spent alone all rise alarm- 
ingly in Silicon Valley, suggesting a 
lonely and unwholesome collective ex- 
istence. This, along with our unflin- 
ching dedication to stressful work, has 
charged shopping with a special excite- 
ment and erotic purpose in daily life, a 
purpose that has swerved sharply onto 
the soft shoulder of values and life- 
styles-based advertising. 

The New Channels 

Shopping has become an impulsive 
journey into a new mondo bizarro of 
marketing fantasy that plays upon an 
inner realm of modern desires. A mar- 
keting paradigm — "psychographics" — has 
emerged to identify and help cultivate 
new consumer vulnerabilities. Its mis- 
sion: to resupply the marketing intellect 
with modern channels. 

In the 1980s, Silicon Valley's own 
Stanford Research Institute (SRI) In- 
ternational pioneered the most promi- 
nent and probably widely used psycho- 
graphics system, the Values and Life- 
styles program (VALS). Silicon Valley 
was a likely breeding ground for psy- 
chographics theory. Without stable 
families or workplaces, consumption 
"patterns" for its many social groups 
lacked demographic consistency, be- 
came less reliable and hence — for ad- 

vertising campaigns — less predictable. 
This, and the chaos of overdevelopment 
that defied residential zoning coherence, 
upset marketing's traditional demogra- 
phic tools, including assumptions about 
the cohesiveness of social groups. 

VALS attempts to characterize and 
order social values, beliefs, fantasies and 
dreams to better attach these to com- 
modities through the medium of adver- 
tising. This, however, requires coming 
to terms with the identity crises that 
contemporary culture poses for con- 
sumers. VALS updates marketing's 
abiding focus, a kind of sociology of 
personal problems, by depicting the 
fragile and complex sensibilities of the 
1980s. To marketing, the new aliena- 
tion appears as an array of daily emo- 
tional problems caused by the collapse of 
widely shared values ^and an accompa- 
nying instability in every realm of life. 

SRI International was on intimate 
terms with the new alienation. A mod- 
ern, multipurpose consultant to the 
Pentagon, the medical industry, and 
industrial management as well as ad- 
vertising agencies, SRI published some 
of the first monographs on post-modern 
lifestyles. These included remarkably 
candid accounts of the new alienation, 
such as the following, published in 1979: 
"alienation of the [U.S.] office worker is 
expected to be a growing problem. [The 
office of the future] may quite possibly 
become a more impersonal place in 
which to work... this suggests a potenti- 
ally far more lonely existence for the 
individual office worker." 

The SRI reports and surveys chroni- 
cled the fantasies and fears as well as 

"higher needs" stirred and left unfulfilled 
by society. A profound new consumer 
wantonness was in the offing. VALS 
articulated a paradigmatic shift within 
the marketing community in order to 
better explore the possibilities. 

In the 1983 paperback introduction to 
VALS, SRI's Arnold Mitchell renders a 
composite snapshot of the compart- 
ments of modern American culture. The 
Nine American Lifestyles traverses the 
spectrum of the fragmented American 
character: Survivors, Sustainers, Be- 
longers. Emulators, Achievers, Exper- 
ientials, I-Am-Me's, as well as the 
Socially Conscious. Atop a hierarchical 
topology is the totally integrated indivi- 
dual who overcomes fragmentation by 
balancing "inner-directed" and "outer- 
directed" traits and needs. (The fastest 
growing inner-directed group constitut- 
ed 20 percent of the national population 
in 1980 and a much higher proportion 
in Silicon Valley and the San Francisco 
Area.) Equating "integration" with 
"psychological maturity," Mitchell and 
VALs set forth a marketing sociology 
that treats consumers as an amalgam of 
lifestyle constructs. SRI's VALs pro- 
gram and psychographics have evolved 
into a strategy to confront consumers 
with emotional and "experiential" mate- 
rial that is longed for but lacking in 
modern life. 

For marketing, the VALS topology 
has been both practical and insightful. 
Since disintegration is the chief socio- 
logical fact of life in places such as 
Silicon Valley, it follows that commodi- 
ties should adopt the iconography of 
what is missing in consumers' lives, 

Page 28 


offering a path (consumption) to bal- 
anced psychological life. VALS-based 
psychographics also implicitly rejects a 
popular sociological fraud of the era: the 
much maligned "materialism" of the 
cynical upscale professionals. Strictly 
speaking, it is not materialism that drives 
people to shop beyond their means and 
needs. Shoppers aren't pausing to ra- 
tionadly select useful goods, nor are they 
"price-shopping." On the contrary, they 
pursue the fantastic symbols offered by 
commodities, and by consumption it- 
self. From the technical sophistication of 
a "dress watch," to the durability of 
ballistics-grade travel luggage, to the 
purity of the organically grown tomato, 
people are shopping for qualities that 
make them feel secure in an unstable 

SRI was among the most persistent of 
marketing researchers in evoking the 
stuff of psychotherapy: experience and 
emotion. By 1985, then-SRI researcher 
James Ogilvy announced, "Advertisers 
are recognizing that to consumers, 
emotions are stronger than ideas;" and 
that "in the information economy, one's 
higher needs are satisfied through expe- 
riences." Betraying a preference for 
black-box behaviorism, Ogilvy articu- 
lated a chilling construct: "The line 
between a product and its image is 
blurring. People look at products as if 
they were mood-altering substances." In 
other words, marketing could take ad- 
vantage of and encourage a growing 
separation between product and primi- 
tively derived needs in favor of a higher 
consumerism defined as: "anything you 
can do to your mind with a product or 
service." "Psychographics," as one ob- 
server succinctly put it, "help businesses 
position their products in the minds of 

"Positioning" commonly involves ex- 
plicit attempts to mollify social loneli- 
ness. New modalities of ad copy speak to 
outsiders, urging them to look into the 
warmth and intimate society of casual 
and carnal acquaintance. "Who are we?" 
asks Esprit, the West Coast fashion 
house, in a brochure pushing designer 
denim for teenagers. "It doesn't matter 
where you're from, what kind of job you 
have, or what you believe in. There is a 
common bond. You recognize it [your 
bond, their denim] when you see it." 
Among the outwardly bonded, howev- 
er, there is plenty of room for inner, 
individual statement. Esprit features 
"three different washes and two kinds of 
fabric, yielding a wide variety" of denim 
that includes six separate bleach washes 
made according to discrete "industrial 
processes." The Esprit brochure itself 
offers a distinct "feel" with a corrugated 
soft brown cover. A competing design 


house features a thoroughly jean-clad 
teenage couple sitting in a tire on a 
street, gazing unassuredly in different 
directions. The spare, "integrating^ jin- 
gle: "Jordache . Basics... because the 
world — isn't." Also frequently invoked 
are the lifestyle icons and dramas that 
evoke whatever is missing from the 
consumer's real life but imagined desir- 
able by marketing research: open roads 
for high-performance cars, loving chU- 
dren who don't drop out, contented and 
cared-for elderly citizens. 

From the high ground of psychogra- 
phic perspective, less and less restrained 
by sexual mores, the marketing mind 
sees in contemporary American culture 
a wide spectrum of longings and values 
that advertising might reaffirm: from 
family love and domestic stability to 
fat- free gluttony and casual sex. Thus, a 
semblance of sociological verite—a sil- 
houette of the new alienation — often 
emanates from ad copy. A journalist 
discerns facets of that alienation in "the 
new Madison Avenue sexuality": 

"Its central characteristics are its in- 
trospection and separation from social 
context. Fathers, sons, and businessmen 
have not disappeared from contempor- 
ary advertising imagery, but they have 
been supplemented by someone else: the 
single male figure, existing in a sexually 
charged social void with perfect. Nauti- 
lus-chiseled contours. He exists alone, 

his body a work of obvious labor in the 
gym, his lifestyle apparently affluent, 
but beyond that, unspecified." (Andrew 
Sullivan, "Advertising Goes Soft-Core: 
Today's Marketing Campaigns Peddle 
Titillation with a Twist," reprinted from 
New Republic in This World, a Sunday 
supplement of the San Francisco Examiner, 
3 April 1988.) 

Utterly banal as popular culture, 
shopping elicits private motivations that 
run deep. If the fulfillment of "higher 
needs," the prized "integration," is im- 
possible to achieve in daily life, then at 
least the emotional and experiential 
semblance could be borrowed from 
advertising's prefabricated self-imagery. 
All that is required are new and frequent 

VALS marks a more explicit and 
certainly more forthright incorporation 
of therapeutic technique into mass ad- 
vertising. The new advertising helps 
propel shopping into a dominant and, 
for some, dominating, pastime; a cross- 
over into a world of fantasy that is more 
voraciously consumed than the com- 
modities themselves. The human relief 
spelled by shopping is profound but 

- Dennis Hayes 

Page 29 


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Page 30 

Most of the counterfeit memos reprinted in PW are 
written in isolation, in a sea of anonymity. In contrast, 
the above memo (reprinted here in slightly revised 
form), emerged out of an open dispute between the 
new administration at the San Francisco Art Institute 
and the unionized workers over their contract, which 
expired in September (they're affiliated with Office and 
Professional Employees Local 2). The memo was 
distributed throughout the SFAI along with "real" 
memos and letters from the SFAI president, leaflets 
from the union local and the Art Institute union 
negotiating committee, and a flyer by students that 
supported the workers. Although the conflict did not 
reach the point of a strike, tensions have been high 
throughout the fall of '88: recendy SFAI has seen 
workers doing informational pickets on their lunch 
hour, students lambasting the President at an open 
meeting on the issue, a staff" "sick-out," as well as 
plenty of bathroom graffiti, xeroxed graphics and a 
couple of wandering troubadors singing about the 
conflict in the school's courtyard. But of the mountain 
of paper produced in the dispute, this memo gives us 
the clearest insight into what happened. 

Unlike the typical union battles against wage cuts, 
the SFAI workers have fought mainly to keep their free 
time. For over a decade, they have worked a 35 hour 
week (or less), with 2 paid weeks off at Christmas, 
^. and ten paid days off throughout the summer, 

|\ in addition to personal vacation time. While 

1 \ this surely originated at the school's con- 

l , V venience, according to the rhythms of 

• -^ the semester system, the SFAI wor- 

:^, kers (many of them working art- 

^. ;:^^» ists, alumni and students) have 

t ''^'.\ developed their own vested in- 

fc B''A terests in their free time. When 

the administration moved to 
take away this "extra" time off 
on the grounds of general "pro- 
ductivity" the workers refused. 

Here are some people who feel they have something 
better to do than work! Surprisingly, many students, 
who pay very expensive tuition fees, despise the admin- 
istration and have supported the staff. 

The students' interest in the staffs fight reveals the 
larger issue of what kind of school SFAI is becoming. 
The administration's corporatizing thrust is in obnox- 
ious contrast to the school's old affiliation with the 
ethereal realm of avant-garde art-making. Art is 
supposed to be detached from the crass materialism of 
nearby office and tourist industries. Power politics 
here in art-land usuaJly is cloaked in the groovy fog of 
"freedom of expression" (not to deny that the free space 
is real). The basic problem appears where this fog is 
touched by the sun of the free market, at which point 
"free expression" evaporates in a jiffy. While fine arts 
have traditionally been a status symbol for the old rich, 
more recendy they have been used like Rollex watches, 
as objects with beauty and permanence that might get 
a good price if their yup owners want to pawn them in 
the uncertain future. The noveau-Yup realists at SFAI 
want to rein in the avant-garde craziness; they want to 
placate the SFAI's rich backers; they want to freshen- 
up the smelly, paint-smeared student body (get um 
ready for the real world) and most of all they want the 
staff to be professional cogs, not idiosyncratic individ- 
uals. The Yup takeover has been headed by a 
Dukakis-clone President and a crew of (ex-S.F. mayor) 
Dianne Feinsteins-in-training. Their God is cost- 
effectiveness. They argue for a more byzantine wage 
hierarchy and less time off, comparing the SFAI 
workers' conditions to workers in similar art schools, 
saying SFAI workers should bring themselves down to 
that average. No wonder that the much reviled 
"Director of Human Resources" who compiled an 
inaccurate survey of other schools has been nicknamed 
"Lois Common Denominator!" (She's asking for it: she 
drives a car with a license plate spelling 

Amidst today's political doldrums the SFAI workers 
hesitated to strike or make offensive demands. But 
they did fight off the time bandits' attempt to impose 
worker-bee status on the staff. The administration too 
halted at the prospect of a strike. A deal was struck that 
keeps the status quo on time off but leaves the door 
open for future haggling. But the basic questions were 
aired about what the school is all about. 

A succinct expression of the conflict the workers face 
in doing boring, repetitive labor daily so others can be 
creative, was made by one worker who wore a button 
reading: "I'm a Slave to Art." 

by Jeff Goldthorpe 

Page 31 


Outwardly Xavier Zanzibar was just another hard-working, 
fast-rising, well-groomed, decent, docile executive assistant to 
a junior VP. But inwardly our man XZ was a boiling teapot of 
erotic dreams. Each day when the rest of the office went out for 
coffee, XZ put up his feet and let his imagination run amok. 
Sometimes a single woman would come walking through the 
door, clad in some clinging gown of translucent white. Intima- 
tions of her body would come rippling to view amid the rippling 
of her garments as she waded through the ambience of her own 
sexuality toward the Pacific Ocean of his lust. Sometimes 
dozens of women at a time would burst through the door and 
pour across the carpet to cover him with breasts and thighs, 
tongues and lips, fingers and cracks, bumps and mounds. 

Of late, however, mere quantity of flesh had begun to pall 
for XZ. Mere quality had begun to bore him too. His imagina- 
tion had launched a restless search for variation. He had teased 
out all the erotic implications to be found in garter snaps, shoe 
laces, and toes. This morning, in his imagination, 
he had dared to cross species lines — a giraffe, with 
her graceful, endless neck. . .the premise evolved 
to such a point that his brain went limp. Just then 
the bong of the big clock woke Xavier Zanzibar 
out of his reveries. Coffeebreak was over. He 
flipped the switch on his intercom. "Miss Droople?" 

Page 32 

her tongue slide across the painted flesh 
that briefly became her smile again, and 
took a step forward. 

"Don't you know me?" 

"Should I?" 

She turned around amd slipped the 
bolt to lock the door. "Tell your 
secretary to hold your calls." 

With shaking fingers he punched the 
intercom button. "Miss Droople," he 
croaked, sweating now. "Hold my calls." 

The woman moved slowly across the 
carpet, mellifluous. Her fingers ran over 
her body like snakes looking for buttons 
£ind zippers. 

"Why don't you come over here and 
do that," XZ managed to choke out. 

"Why don't you come over here and 
say that," she replied, arching her back. 

Xavier couldn't believe (or under- 

"Yes sir?" said the luscious 17 year old 
that he liked to imagine was on the other 
endof that line. 

"Any messages for me?" 

"Yes, sir. Mrs. Zanzibar is here to see 

Xavier frowned. "Mrs. Zanzibar?" 
There was no Mrs. Zanzibar— he wasn't 
married. Was this some forgotten 
girlfriend, after him with a paternity 
suit? Impossible: XZ had never had a 
girlfriend. "Send her in," he said and 
took his feet off the desk. 

She walked in quiedy, leaning against 
the door to close it. She might have 
been in her early twenties, and though 
she looked damnably familiar he could 
not quite place the face. She was 
wearing a floor length fur coat. With a 
casual flick of her fingers, she undid the 
first button, a trace of a smile flickering 
on her lips. 

XZ gulped and tried to speak. 

She tossed her head. Her copper- 
toned hair swirled and setded on her 
shoulders again: just like in the sham- 
JXK) commercizd. Without moving away 
from the door she undid the second aind 
third buttons of her coat, fmally letting 
the bulky fur slide off her shoulders and 
drop to the floor. She was dressed in a 
semi-transparent, clinging white gown. 

"What the hell—?" XZ started out of 
his chair. "Who the heU — ?" he splut- 

She rounded her lips into an O, let 


Stand) his luck. He pushed his chair 
back and stood up, feeling whoozy. Her 
fingers writhed like eels, drawing up her 
skirt, gradually exposing two tanned 
pillars of thigh. For one fleeting 
moment, XZ did wonder about the 
wisdom of letting adl this proceed with- 
out further questions. He was, after all, 
supposed to be working on the Perkins 
Account. But by then he was already 
touching one of her breasts. She wiggled 
against his palm. He touched her beUy. 
"Lower down," she whispered. 

He slipped to his knees as she drew 
her skirt up to her waist. 

"Who are you?" he gasped. 

"Don't stop," she crooned, sinking to 
the floor. 

Her thighs beat around his ears, and 
her voice sounded like distant sea gulls. 
His tongue, like a pink reptilian crea- 
ture with a will of its own, crawled into 
the succulence, dragging his head along. 
At first XZ was satisfied to feel his face 
lapping up against that slick flesh, but 
after a moment he discovered that those 
lips were sufficiently elastic to accomo- 
date his entire head if he pressed. This 
made breathing a bit difficult, but under 
the circumstances XZ was happy to 
forego the oxygen. Besides, the source 
of the sweetness always seemed to be a 
litde further in, always a litde further in. 
His tongue, drawn to that source, drove 
on into the dcirkness, dragging XZ 
along. Now his shoulders too had 
cleared the slippery gate, but XZ was 
barely aware of this. He propelled 
himself forward, though he scarcely 
knew that he was doing it, by pushing 
off against the carpet, until at last, lost 
in a torrent of sensation, XZ had 
crawled physically and entirely inside 
the stranger. 

At last, totaUy exhausted, he lay stiU 
inside the pulsating darkness. When at 
last he did open his eyes, he expected to 
find flesh pressed against his eyeballs. 

■" ■ ^ 




Page S3 

Instead, to his surprise, he was lying on 
his side, looking out over a vast, 
undulating pink plain. The ground was 
soft, almost rubbery to his touch. 

Almost at once he noticed a clump of 
specks moving toward him from the 
horizon: soldiers on horseback, crack- 
ing nasty- looking whips. Long, limp 
scabbards swung at their waists. 

XZ scrambled to his feet. He was still 
wearing his three-piece pin-striped suit, 
which put him in glaring contrast to his 
background. He looked for a place to 
hide but there was not a rock or a bush 
in sight. In any case it was too late. 
The soldiers reined up around him, 
yammering some foreign gibberish. 

"What in God's name do you devils 
want?" XZ shouted. 

"Money," one of them replied in 
perfect English. 

"Ha! XZ nodded triumphantly. 
They were human after all. "Well, let me 
tell you something, you sons of bitches. 

I never carry cash." He flipped out his 
string of credit cards. It was a foot and a 
half long, the biggest in the whole office 
by four inches. 

A gasp went up among the creatures. 
Barking and yelping, they swooped him 
up, trussed him in a rope, and poured 
across the quivering pink plain at a 
gallop, whooping like sophomores and 
firing festive farts. Presendy the flat 
terrain gave way to a block-like envi- 
ronment in pleasant decorator colors. 
XZ found himself swept through a pair 
of ornate gates, into a low-slung ranch- 
style abode of palatial size. Indoors, the 
grandeur of the furnishings added to the 
sensation of immensity. Laquered 
French and Oriental antique end tables 
were covered with rare treasures from 
Neiman- Marcus. The walls were pa- 
pered with authentic ten and twenty 
dollar bills. The south side of the house 
was a single big picture window looking 
out over a magnificent vista of Spanish 

TWtSrgQIIVIAGE ., AceBackwords.™ 

chinchillas on a hillside that plunged 
breath-stoppingly down to a speckled 
valley, across which one could see a 
picturesque setdement of peasants 
clinging to a mountainside. 

Lolling in front of this view was the 
ugliest creature upon whom XZ had 
ever laid eyes. 

"Who— who are you?" he stammered 
in amazement, but the creature ignored 

"Set him down," the monster rumbled, 
lighting his cigar with a hundred dollar 
bill. He gazed at XZ for a moment. 
Then: "Let's see the cards," he ordered 
finally, blowing a series of fat cumulus 
smoke rings. 

Several of his cringing subordinates 
leapt to obey and got into a snarling 

"Stop that, you idiots," the Boss 
roared. The dogfight stopped dead. 
"You want to rip up the card? Fido! 
Bring me that wallet. Spot, you untie 
the organism that was stuck to the 


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Page 34 


wallet. We might have a job for him 
later on." 

XZ deeply resented being described 
as the organism stuck to his wallet; and 
he was unpleasantly curious about the 
"job" he might be given later. Mean- 
while, the Boss was leafing through the 
cards. "Bank-Empire Card, Andalusian 
Express, Carte Noir, Fifteen Pigs 
Courtesy Card," he murmured, and 
then the glitter in he eyes intensified. 
"Ah. . .here it is. . .Super Charge." His 
fat face cracked into a smile of greed and 
pleasure. "Lily!" he called out, then 
pointed a huge finger stained with 
tobacco juice at the yelping soldiers. 
"Get out, all of you." 

"Lily!" XZ exclaimed. That name. . . 

And then she came into the room, 
dressed in mesh- screen black stockings 
and garter belt under a short, semi- 
transparent white dress. She looked 
younger now, practically a girl, but the 
copper-toned hair still cascaded over her 
unmistakable shoulders, and that 
face . . . that damnably familiar 

face... The girl stepped forward, pay- 
ing no attention to XZ. The Boss thrust 
the card into her small hand. 

"Cash or charge, sir?" she inquired 

"CHARGE!" bellowed the monstrosi- 
ty, thrusting his bottom high up into the 
air, revealing not the usual puckered 
orifice but a slot-like affair about two 
and a half inches long. 

"CHARGE!" he shouted again, and 
the girl obediently galloped forward, the 
credit card held out in front of her like a 
short flat sword, until she plunged it into 
the atypical opening presented to her. 

The howling and heaving which then 
ensued made the windows tremble. The 
Boss seemed to shrink above and below 
till he consisted only of one enormous 
blubberous mass which sprang forward 
and back, engulfing with each thrust not 

just the charge card but the whole hand 
and part of the arm which fed in the 
piece of plastic. 

The girl wore an expression of pro- 
found boredom. Her eyes had gone 
virtually grey. Her skin was stretched 
tightly across her cheekbones while 
bulges on both sides of her jaws showed 
how tightly clenched her mouth was. 
Her lips were squeezed together in a 
taut, tight line. 

CHARGE!" the corpulant creature kept 
shouting until his words blurred and 
dissolved into a general moaning. Sud- 
denly he began to quiver and emit 
explosive grunts. Small coins embossed 
with the profiles of presidents and other 
notables cascaded from his mouth while 
greenbacks — one, five, and ten dollar 
bills — spewed from his other end. "Yo- 
wee! Zap! Super Charge! Wow!" he 
shouted and collapsed into a gelid heap. 

Until this moment XZ had been 
transfixed, but now horror and repul- 
sion erupted in him. He leapt for the 
door but the girl blocked his way. 

"Not through there," she said sharply. 
"The running dogs of imperialism will 
tear you to pieces." 

"You mean — ?" 

"That's right." She put a warm hand 
on his arm. "There is only one way out 
of here." 

"You mean — ?" XZ's gaze dropped to 
her crotch. 

"No," she protested. "Not that way— 
him." She glanced toward the Boss, 
piled atop his mounds of cushion, 
splay-legged in burbling snores of sleep. 
His organ dangled to the floor, mon- 
strous even in repose. 

"Through. . .him?" XZ felt himself 
shrinking like a snowball on a hot day. 

"Yes." She pressed the credit card into 
his hand. "Now. . .while he's still asleep. 

Oh, hurry!" 

The running dogs were rattling the 

"I can't!" 

"You must!" She gave him a push. 
The Boss was stirring now; the commo- 
tion was beginning to wake him up. 
"Quick!" she screamed again. "It's your 
only chance!" She grabbed his hand 
impatiently and dragged him to the 
couch, forcing the card toward the mass 
of the Boss's behind. No sooner had the 
card touched the slot in that mass, then, 
like a garbage disposal, the cavity began 
to suck in our man Xavier Zanzibar. 

"But what about you?" 

"Goodbye," she called out tearfully. 
The running dogs had gotten through 
the door and were already swarming 
over her. 

"Fm taking you with me!" He flung his 
hand out, but too late. She was pufled 
to the floor while XZ, two inches ahead 
of the running dogs of imperialism, 
disappeared into the belly of the mon- 

+ * * 

Disappeared from one scene, that is, 
but reappeared in a more familiar 
location — his own office: reappeared 
with a popping sound like a cork coming 
out of a bottle. The room was empty 
.and XZ had the strange feeling that no 
more than a second or two had passed 
since he had told Miss Droople to send 
in the mysterious "Mrs" Zanzibar. In fact 
the door was opening and then ... in she 
walked. And XZ caught his breath, 
remembering now that of course there 
was a Mrs. Zanzibar. 

"Mother," he exclaimed, rising par- 
tially out of his seat. "What're you doing 

by Tamim Ansary 



Page 35 


by Barbara Schaffer 

Tamerlane rioting west 
conduit of fear 
& underfed bears. 

Beyond the electric shed 
a topic was suggested 

introduced, dismantled, 

sold for parts: 

Loneliness, the exile in the 

wilderness, the exemplary wilderness of 
million-dollar homes & no homes 
& no children or drugged children 
the soft-coal fog of gin lane 
the economy of the Colosseum: 

Tens of thousands of exotic beasts 
captured, cared for, destroyed for 
games and gods 'R Us. 


by Ann-Marie Hendrickson 

Mr. Trump woke up in the morning and smashed the claws 

off his hands with the hammer he 

always kept next to his bed for this purpose 

smashed his long teeth shaved his face pounded 

the wall and howled 

careful attention to detail 

is all that separates us from the animals he snarled 

crunching his broken teeth into his bloody stumps 

never forget who your true friends are he 

whined into the mirror and flushed magenta trying to 

focus his eyes on his own reflection that 

is the secret of my success whining and pacing 

around the bathroom 

what a struggle it is to retain 

your humanity in this business he muttered lashing 

blindly at the shower curtain 

pacing and 


around the bathroom 

with each circuit his knee 

banged into the bathtub he 

shrieked and pounded the wall he held 

his breath until he felt very faint and staggered gasped 

gulping in the steaming air wheezing yes it's all under control now 



Page 36 













St. Gabriel Park on First Avenue and Thirty-sixth 
Street was old and more run-down than Dan remem- 
bered. The black paint on the wrought-iron fence was 
chipped and peeling, and the windows of the brick 
parkhouse were boarded up and covered with colorful, 
three- foot-high graffiti. 

Scanning the playground in front of him, he put up 
his collar and breathed steamy breath on his cold 
cupped hands. The tall bare sycamores lining the 
asphalt paths stood beautifully against the sunny 
Manhattan skyline, against the Empire State building 
some six blocks away. 

Behind the big swings two young mothers eased 
their bundled-up three-year-olds down the slide. He 
walked to the other side of the parkhouse. Near the 
fenced-in sandbox several homeless men and women 
sat on the sunlit benches — talking and rubbing their 
gloved hands. He inspected their tanned, leathery 
faces; his mother was not among them, and he headed 
for the asphalt softball field. 

There could be no tricking her he told himself, 
ducking through a gash in the chain-link fence and 
stepping into left-centerfield. Or physically forcing her 
to come with him, as Kevin and Sean had stupidly 
tried the week before Christmas. They'd dragged her 
to the curb and were about to get her into Kevin's car 
when her flailing and shouting brought the parkey and 
enough sympathetic passers-by to help her escape. 
Sean chased after her, slung her over his shoulder and 
carried her, kicking and screaming, back to the car. 
But Kevin said the "interfering bastards" had stuck 
around and again kept them from getting her in. And 
after Sean bloodied the parkey's nose they'd sped away 
without her. No, Dan thought, heading toward the 
backstop, there'd be no more of that caveman 
approach. He wasn't sure what he could offer her but 

whatever it was, he'd respect her decision. Let her 
make up her own mind. 

Behind the backstop a group of teenagers — a 
Spanish kid, three white girls, two black guys in flaring 
blue dorags — inspected him. As he neared they hid 
behind their backs the joint and brown-bagged quart 
of beer they'd been passing. Loud rap music pounded 
from their monstrous radio. He figured they were 
cutting class from a nearby high school, and as he 
passed he gave them the fearless yet unchallenging 
look he knew would let them return to getting high, 
and to dancing in that robotlike style Sean had 

He walked out the side exit, then crossed the narrow 
street that cut the park in two. On the corner of Second 
Avenue an abandoned red Duster sat on the sidewalk, 
ransacked and tireless. 

Except for a few dirty chunks of snow, the 
shuffleboard and handball courts were empty. At the 
far end of the basketball court a heavily dressed old 
woman sat on the bench reading; he headed towards 

The old woman didn't look up, but something about 
her shabby brown overcoat seemed familiar. 


From beneath a worn green balaclava with a white 
pompom, his mother looked up. Her face was wrinkled 
and red — her eyes slightly bloodshot, and glassy from 
the cold. She stared at him with mild shock, then 
smiled faintly. 

"I can't believe you're doing this. Ma." 

Her face hardened. 

She glanced down at his father's pants, then at 
Sean's bomber jacket and her ruddy eyelids narrowed. 

"If you're here, Danny — " she hissed between 
clenched teeth, "to try 'n drag me home, you better 


Page 37 

turn around — 'fore I call a cop." 

He stepped back and threw up his 
hands. "No. No, I just came to say 
hello." He watched her face soften a bit, 
then asked if he could sit down. She bit 
her lower lip and looked at him suspi- 
ciously. She picked up the book she'd 
laid face down on her lap, and resumed 
reading. The Color Purple, the book was, 
by Alice Walker. He'd not read it, but 
he knew what it was about. It was a far 
cry from the platonic romance novels 
she'd read in bed when he was young, 
after she washed and dried the dishes, 
and wiped off the kitchen table, and put 
the younger kids to bed. 

He shooed a pigeon from the empty 
side of the bench, and with his hand 
inspected it before he sat down. Sitting, 
the cold rushed through his father's thin 
pants. He forced himself to ignore it. 

"I would've come sooner, Ma, but I 
was having a rough time getting used to 
the city." 

Beside the trash can by the fence, two 
pigeons pecked at chicken scraps from a 
box of Kentucky Fried Chicken. 

He laughed, remembering his first 
two days back, then looked at her. "I 
might not have made it if I'd tried 
coming yesterday." 

His mother turned the page, not 
looking at him, though he sensed she 
was listening. 

"What do you have in the bags?" 

She looked at the two blue Mays bags 
between her feet. "An extra sweater," 
she said, not unpleasantly. "Some Sal- 
tines ... apples. You want an apple, 

While he wagged his head indecisive- 
ly, she lay her book on her lap, removed 
her mittens, and dug deeply into the 
Mays bag nearest him. Her hands 
smelled like Pond's lotion. A few strands 
of white hair stuck out from her balacla- 
va. It was amazing how much she'd 
aged since he last saw her. He wondered 
how long she'd survive living at the 

She held out to him the least bruised 
of two badly bruised apples. 

"Mcintosh," she said, "your favorite." 

He took the cold apple, pleased she 

"It's half priced fruit," she said apolo- 
getically, watching him inspect the 
bruises. "From the A 'n P on Third 
Avenue. Just eat around the bad parts." 

He bit into the good part of the apple, 
picturing her in the alley behind the 
A&P, rifling through the smelly dumps- 
ter. He shook the picture away and took 
another bite. Behind the backstop across 
the way, the rap music still played — the 
kids still passed their quart of beer and 
joint, and danced in their robotlike way. 

It was all a little hard to believe, he 
thought, stamping his foot and driving 
an encroaching pigeon away. Here he 
was, in a playground in Manhattan, in 
the dead of winter, sitting beside the 
woman who used to do everything for 
him, cut his meat into little chewable 
pieces, give him soothing tummy rubs 
when his stomach ached — shower him 
with healing kisses when he fell from his 
two-wheeler, or scraped his knee while 
playing. And here she was living in a 
run-down flophouse, surviving on lunch 
at the Scilvation Army — on bruised 
fruit she scavenged from supermarket 

"When'dja get back, Danny?" 

"Sunday," he said, sitting up. He 
watched her fold the corner of a page 
and close the book. "Three days ago." 

"I know what day it is, Danny." 

"Oh." He bounced to his feet to keep 
warm. "Sorry." 

"Ya not used to this cold, are ya?" she 
said. "Africa must be nice and warm." 

"Mostly. It depends on where you 
are. Ma. Africa's a big place — there's 
forty-four countries. It's three times the 
size of the U.S." 

"Really?" she said, raising her white 
eyebrows. "I didn't know it was that 

"Ma, what happened? You want to 
talk about it?" 

She looked away, squinting into the 

"You and Dad have a fight?" 

She laughed, waving away the sug- 
gestion with her mittened hand. She 
looked over at the empty, sunlit hand- 
ball courts, beyond which three lanes of 
cars, buses and trucks battled their way 
down Second Avenue. "Your father 
wouldn't bother," she said, then laughed 
again. "A fight? Nah. That woulda 
taken too much effort." 

"Well, he and everybody else send 
their love. Ma," he lied. "They all miss 
you, you know. We're all very worried 
about you." 

She frowned, then looked him in the 
eye. "I'm just an old, worn-out machine 
to them, Danny. Probably to you, too. 
Just an old black 'n white tv set whose 
tubes don't work anymore." 

He slid closer to her on the bench. 
"Come on now. Ma, that's not how 
anybody feels." 

"I've served my purpose," she said, 
squinting up into the sun, "now I'm 
dirt." She undid the top button of her 
coat, and he saw she had on a second 
coat underneath. 

"Why don't we get a cup of coffee 
somewhere," he said, "and talk about it? 
Someplace nice and warm?" 

Her face hardened. "No, thank you," 

she said politely. She opened the book to 
her place. "I'm just fine here. I don't 
need anybody's coffee." 

"Aren't you cold, Ma?" he said a few 
minutes later. ''Ym freezing.'' 

She looked down at his bare, purplish 
hands, then up at his uncovered head. 

"No hat and gloves, heh?" 

He studied the laces on his new 
Wallabees. "Look, Ma ..." 

"Whatja leave 'em home?" 

"I left them at Kevin's." 

"Boy-oh-boy, Danny," she said with 
that familiar smile. She took off her 
balaclava and mittens and handed them 
to him. Her white hair was cropped 
short, and she was thinning on top. 

"Nah — it's all right. Ma," he said, 
pushing away the badaclava and mit- 
tens. "I'm not that cold. Really." 

"Go 'head, put 'em on — you'll catch 
your death 'a cold. You're not used to 
this weather. Go on, Danny, take 'em." 

He took the balaclava and mittens, 
and put them on. 

"You ever read this book?" she said, 
holding the cover up to him. 

He told her he hadn't. 

"Boy, this woman's sharp." She began 
reading where she'd left off "One sharp 
cookie, this woman is." She read a 
paragraph or so, then looked at him. 
"She knows what goes on between man 
and woman. And she ain't afraid to 
write it." 

He wiped his nose on the back of one 
of her mittens, opened and closed his 
hands, which were slightly numb. He 
couldn't take this much longer. Gra- 
dually he brought his arm around the 
top of the bench, then around her 
shoulders. He gave her shoulders the 
slightest pressure, just enough to make 
himself felt, but no more. Her shoulders 

After a few minutes, he felt her 
shoulders relax. Then he asked her if 
she'd come with them to L.A., and — 
before she could refuse — if they could 
please go someplace else, just to sit if 
that's all she wanted. Her shoulders 

"I don't want to be anybody's burden, 
Danny," she said, turning from him, 
squinting into the sun. "I'm gonna get a 
job here. I'll be all right, don't worry." 

"What if you don't find one?" 

"I'll find one." She closed the book and 
rested it sideways in her lap. "If not I'll 
get by on social security." 

"How much is that these days?" 
She looked at him, annoyed. "Half 
your father's." she said, looking away. 
She studied the kids behind the backstop 
across the way. "Two- fifty a month." 
She dug into one of her bags, came up 
with a black ski hat and a pair of 

Page 38 


mittens, and put them on. Then she 
looked at him. 

"Listen, I don't want your pity, 
Danny. I'll get by. I always have, I 
always will. Don't worry about it. I 
won't starve. Believe me." 

"What if you don't get a job?" 

She sighed and and looked across the 
park. "I will." 

"Have you started looking?" 

"A little," she said, though from the 
way she said it he sensed she'd actually 
looked a lot. "Here and there." 


"Nothing yet," she said, looking at the 
Second Avenue traffic. "Not many peo- 
ple want to hire a sixty-three-year-old 
woman who lives at the Vigilant." She 
turned to him. "Look, can we talk about 
something else? How's Lynn and Jacob? 

looked down at her brown rubber boots. 
"Don't worry, Danny, somethin'U come 
along. Always has, always will. Don't 
pity me — I don't want your pity." 

"Apartments are cheap out there. 


"L.A. Me and Lynn'll be living in an 
expensive one, but there's cheaper spots 
around. We could find you something 
you could afford. Lynn's brother's in 
rentals. We could put you up until he 
found you something." 

At that her shoulders relaxed, and he 
rubbed them a little harder, his hand 
thawing slightly inside her mittens. 

"Look, Ma, it's my turn now. I'll take 
care of you." 

"I don't need anyone to take care of 
me. I can take care of myself." 

Are they fitting in all right? You two 
pick out a school yet for Jacob in 
California? What does he look like, is he 
big, small, does he play baseball, bas- 

"Do you have to tell them where you 

She rolled her eyes and clucked her 
tongue. "They got to have someplace to 
call to tell me I got the job." 

"Well . . . can't you arrange with the 
guy at the desk? For him not to answer 
the phone with 'The Vigilant'?" 

She smiled patiently. "A woman 
named Irene works the desk. Jamaican 
— late-forties. Very nice. But she's got a 
hundred 'n twenty residents. The owner 
says she's gotta answer Vigilant'. What's 
she gonna do, lose her job over me?" She 

"All right, all right. But at least let me 
help. Can't I help?" 

A dapper old man and his well- 
groomed afghan entered through the 
opposite gate. The afghan came over 
and sniffed at Dan's crotch, then ran 
back to its owner. 

"I don't need anyone's help," she said, 
watching the old man leash his afghan 
near the water fountain. "I don't need 
anyone to take care of me. No thanks." 

"No one's going to take care of you, 
Ma. We just want to help a little, that's 

His mother sighed. She fished out a 
slice of stale rye bread from her coat 
pocket, pitched it to the pigeons milling 
around the trash can. 

"Is it because of Lynn." 

"That she's Jewish?" 

She rolled her eyes and pursed her 
lips, then looked at him. "Jewish, 
smooish — what's it matter? As long as 
you love her, and she loves you." She 
cooed to the brown pigeon with white 
tail feathers bobbing toward her, and 
dropped it a scrap of bread. "Look at me 
'n your father. We're both Catholic. 
Irish. What good it'd do? As long as you 
love her, Danny, and she loves you. 
That's all that counts." She tossed the 
rest of the slice to the pigeons coming 
toward her. "You kids're all grown up 
now. Independent. I don't want to 
burden you. You got your own lives 

But he could see her heart wasn't in it. 
And after a few minutes of watching the 
backstop gang terrorize the Second 
Avenue traffic, he said, "Remember 
that old Horn 'n Hardarts, Ma? Near 
Radio City? The one we used to eat at 
after the Easter show?" Her small smile 
told him she did. And after invoking a 
few more old memories, and picking at 
another of her bruised apples, she 
agreed to go there for one cup of hot 

On the way to the subway she asked 
how the others were. He told her all he 
knew — about Kevin's decision to sell 
his old taxis and buy Peugeot diesels to 
save on gas. She thought it was a good 

"It's amazing how far we've come," he 
said. He thought of the old apartment, 
he and Sean and Kevin in one bedroom, 
Sue, Katey and Meg in the other, she 
and Dad sleeping in the living room on 
the convertible couch. 

"Yeah," she said, smiling. "I'm very 
proud of all of you. I know your father is 

She let him take her bags beside the 
Haagen Dazs at Third Avenue. 

"I see you're gettin' a little gray, 
Danny," she said, as they passed a man 
sleeping on cardboard beside B. Alt- 
man's. "Ain't it somethin' how time 
flies?" She reached up and tugged his 
earlobe through the balaclava. "How's it 
feel to be an old fart, heh, Danny-boy?" 

"You know, Ma, you'd really like 
California." He knew that after hearing 
more about L.A., and with a good 
warm meal in her stomach, she'd soften 
to the idea. "It's nice and warm there. 
No more New York winters, no more 

"Ah, but I hate sticky weather, Dan- 
ny. I hate it worse than winter. 

"But L.A.'s dry warm. Ma — not 
muggy like here." 

"Yeah?" She stepped aside to let two 
Spanish kids in a hurry pass, her face 


Page 39 

brightening. "Much of a breeze out 
there, Danny?" 

"Sure," he said, and he improvised 
about the "year-round tradewinds" that 
blew off the Pacific. 

"And mild," he added half a block 
later, knowing her penchant for moder- 
ation. "It's got four seasons, but mild 
seasons. Not too warm, not too cold, 
just nice." 

She said nothing, but he knew it was a 
good sign. He figured she was already 
imagining herself cruising around 
sunny Southern California, in a bright 
little VW convertible. With no husband 
to serve or answer to, and finally doing 
what she pleased — perhaps broadening 
her horizons with a college degree. 

At the Sixth Avenue station, the white 
attendant in the token booth gave him a 
funny look, and it occurred to him that 
he and his mother were a strange sight 
— he in his worn green balaclava, 
oversized bomber jacket and baggy 
pants, and his mother, this shabbily 
dressed woman who might easily live on 
the street. But he shrugged off the 
attendant's look, and the subtle stares 
from a well-dressed couple on the plat- 
form, and he thought ahead to his next 

When he went home, either with her, 
or with a firm promise to meet her again 
tomorrow, he'd talk to the others about 
setting up a monthly fund, until she got 
on her feet financially. It was only fair 
the others share the cost of her upkeep. 
But perhaps she'd be happier living with 
Kevin and Nancy, in their big house in 
Larchmont. She might be better off 
staying in New York, and Kevin's kids 
would be good for her. L.A. would be a 
drastic change — at her age it might be 
too difficult to adjust. The house in 
Santa Monica had only two bedrooms, 
which he and Lynn had figured were 
enough for them and Jacob, but which 
would be a bit tight with a guest. Surely 
his mother wouldn't want to share a 
bedroom with a nine-year-old. But he 
knew they'd work something out. The 
important thing was that she have a 

He leaned against the old wooden 
bench on which his mother sat, and 
inhaled the urine stench of the platform, 
read the Marlboro and Burger King 
clock advertisements. He stepped over 
to the track, and looked down at the 
scummy, garbage- filled water between 
the rails. He pulled out his wallet and 
counted his traveler's checks. There 
were ten twenties and a fifty left. He 
tried picturing the area around Radio 
City, but couldn't, and he realized the 
old Horn & Hardarts had probably been 
torn down long ago, replaced by some 

chic ethnic restaurant, some expensive 
place like the one Kevin took him to. He 
wondered where they could go instead. 

When he heard the familiar roar from 
the tunnel, he took his mother's arm. 
The corrugated-steel B train screeched 
to a halt. He picked up his mother's bags 
with one hand, and with the other 
guided her safely into the warm train. It 
was not as spotless and shiny as the new 
4 train he'd seen earlier at Grand 
Central, but the car was more modern 
than the old painted ones on the Flush- 
ing line. 

other spraypainted names and slogans 
covered the walls, but the blue fiberglass 
seats were clean and comfortable. 

"Nice and warm, isn't it?" he said to 
her, as he enjoyed the heat, the relative 
quiet of the ride. She nodded and 
smiled, and squeezed his forearm. Oth- 
erwise as the train moved sluggishly 
uptown, she sat in silence, still wearing 
her black ski hat and mittens, her feet 
crossed contentedly beneath her. She'll 
be just fine, he thought, shifting away to 
give her more room. She'll be just fine. 

Two punks in black combat boots, 
leather jackets and blond spiky mo- 
hawks stormed through the car; on the 
back of one's jacket was scrawled, in 
white paint, Kapital, Kapital Uber 
Alles; on the other's. Fuck Amerikkka. 

"I think that Horn 'n Hardarts in on 
Forty-Sixth, Danny," his mother said, 
as the train sped into Forty-Second 
Street. "We should get off at Rockefeller 
Plaza, the next stop." 

He nodded. 

She chuckled. "That is, if it's still 
there, Danny. They probably tore it 
down long ago. We'll probably have to 
go someplace else." 

"That's all right." 

"You know, honey," she said as the 
doors closed, "I'd insist on paying you 
back whatever you lay out for me. Rent, 
food, whatever. I don't want any hand- 
outs. As soon as I get a job I'll pay ya 
right back." She removed her mittens 
and rubbed her red, chapped hands. 
"And as soon as I get a job I'll be right 
out and into my own little place. You 'n 
Lynn got your own life." 

"Sure, Ma. However you want to 
work it." 

Opposite them sat a woman Lynn's 
age, deep in thought, and as he studied 
her reflective face he wondered if Lynn 
would go along with this. He should've 
asked her before offering her what he 
had; Lynn wasn't exactly an African — 
she'd been raised in comfort, and liked 
her privacy, and a fair amount of space. 
A two-bedroom house was small, and 
with his mother it might be uncomfort- 

able — for all of them. 

After doing his best to ignore her, he 
met the stare of the attractive young 
black woman sitting at the end of their 
bench. Her lovely figure was closiked in 
a form-fitting beige longcoat; she wore 
an expensive fur hat, and shiny lavender 
boots. She'd been eyeing him since they 
got on, with what he'd thought was 
unabashed attraction. But now, as he 
studied her delicately lipsticked and 
rouged face, he realized her look was 
one of amusement, at the sight of him 
and this shabby old woman sitting side 
by side. He blushed uncontrollably, as 
he hadn't done in years, and he looked 
down the car, feeling foolish, and sud- 
denly embarrassed to be sitting beside 
his mother. 

He felt a wave of guilt for his thought, 
but caught sight of a Spanish woman 
and her son, a handsome boy of ten or 
eleven, at the far end of the car. 

Watching the woman and her son, he 
found deep within his memory his 
mother's breakdown, which she'd had 
when he was eleven. She'd convinced 
herself she was going to die — she'd 
even insisted on writing her will, and on 
seeing Father Hanratty for her last rites. 
And one morning, as he ate breakfast, 
with an awful gleam in her eye, as if she 
were punishing him for her bondage as 
housewife and mother, she told him she 
wanted him to be a good boy after she 
died. And he'd cried and cried, and had 
bad dreams for months, even after she 
returned from the hospital. What if she 
started with that crap again — in front 
of Jacob? He might be better off putting 
her in a home, where she'd be with 
people with whom she shared common 
interests and memories. They could find 
one near Santa Monica, visit her every 
Sunday, take her on picnics to the 
beach. Or perhaps she'd be better off 
living with Kevin and Nancy, or Sean 
and his girlfriend. 

As they pulled into Rockefeller Plaza, 
the stop for Horn & Hardarts, his 
mother stood up. The conductor an- 
nounced something over the p. a. The 
doors slid open, and he felt the cold air 
from the platform slap his cheek. His 
mother stood waiting for him at the 
door, her two shopping bags in hand. 

"This is the stop, Danny," she said, 
smiling. She waited a moment, and then 
the smile left her face. She stepped out 
and the doors closed, leaving him 
watching, but still seated, on the train 
headed uptown. 

by Bob Slaymaker 

Page 40 




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Page 41 

Another Nad Adventure 

Dear PW, 

Well, it's my second day out of the 
Psych Ward, and I'm still trying to 
deal with the diagnosis, at the ripe 
old age of 30, of being a "paranoid 
schizophrenic." This handy label was 
given to me after I disclosed that my 
brother was diagnosed as paranoid 
schizophrenic 15 years ago. And you 
know the American Medical Associa- 
tion PR about how it's all caused by 
some genetic thing, how it runs in the 
family, or some such shit. 

I stopped talking to my brother Jim 
when I was eight years old. He just 
seemed too damn crazy for a perfectly 
sane person such as myself. Jim was 
best friends with the mortician's son. I 
guess Jim had a hard time expressing 
what it was like to have this friend's 
older brother shut him inside a casket 
or take him down to the embalming 
room to see a corpse with a bullet 
hole in it. Not that anybody wanted to 

Another one of Jim's downfalls was 
that he had no interest in playing 
baseball. For this he was whipped 
repeatedly with four or five belts 
because my dad thought he was a 
sissy faggot. By the time he was 1 1 or 
12, Jim had become a vegetable, and 
laid in bed all day talking to the 
voices in his head. I hated him even 
more. His very existence got on my 

A few days after blood started 
gushing from my vagina, I learned 
that I had indeed started my first 
period. The next day, I was com- 
pletely taken by surprise when my 
parents announced their new policy 
of giving me the same treatment, 
which soon developed into an S/M 
ritual that lasted throughout high 
school. All I had done to deserve this 
was to call my mother a bitch. 

Jim now haunts the streets of Ply- 
mouth, Indiana, a homeless street 
person, scrounging around for a free 
drink, and embarrassing my parents 
on purpose, so they say. I asked if 
anybody had ever tried to help him 
apply for disability benefits, so he 
could at least have the basic human 

dignity of receiving food and shelter. 
The thought had never occurred to 
them. After all, that would be like 
getting welfare. Perish the thought! 

My sister Jeanne, the renowned 
irmocent angel, recently visited me 
with her two sons. Three years ago I 
told Jeanne that my friend David had 
died of AIDS. "Is AIDS still around?" 
she asked. I stopped visiting David in 
the hospital because my boyfriend 
didn't want me to. I was weary of his 
constant blathering about how I 
might get AIDS just by touching 
David and breathing the same air. I 
didn't want him to leave me. To me, 
he was life itself. 

(And let's not forget my four abor- 
tions, the last one at the urging of the 
above-mentioned boyfriend, after I 
bought myself a maternity wardrobe 
and married him. Yes, I did file for 
divorce immediately. But we recon- 
ciled a few times in later years. He 
was so cute.) 

"OK, so she doesn't read the pa- 
pers," one of my therapists surmised 
of Jeanne. So what? All I know is that 
when my sister left, I was standing at 
the kitchen sink, mulling over this 
and that, and suddenly it was as if 
someone slugged me in the gut, and I 
fell to the floor, and cried for two 
days. My nephews would inherit the 
legacy of denial, confusion, and fear 
unless I did something NOW! 

My solution was to sit down and 
write my life story in order to grasp 
why my family was so psychotic. To 
do this, I forced myself to overcome 
my total creative block of 15 years. 
My tome grew to 20 or more pages. I 
couldn't care less about eating or 
sleeping because I was so intent at 
getting at the truth. When I inserted a 
passage about the tragic fates that 
had overtaken almost everyone my 
family or I had been friends with, I 

Actually, the first couple of days in 
the Psych Ward weren't too bad. It 
was a humbling experience. My big- 
gest complaint was that the drugs 
they pumped into me didn't help my 
depression and anxiety any, they just 
scrambled my brains, and my new 

label destroyed my credibility. 

I had a hacking cough due, appar- 
ently, to my taking up smoking again, 
which goes with the territory in a 
place like that. The nurse said she 
was going to give me an injection to 
determine if I had TB. It seems they 
use a pork derivative serum for this, 
and I freaked. I thought of those poor 
people in Belle Glades, Florida (see 
Covert Action Information Bulletin's 
no. 28 and 29). But it was clear that I 
could not get out of there unless I 
submitted. I later found another in- 
jection mark which I cannot explain. 

I noticed that copies of my stories 
kept disappearing and reappearing. 
Someone had opened my bottles of 
contact lens disinfectant and saline 
solution, so I chucked everything, 
including the contact lenses. I re- 
membered how a woman in Marin 
went blind after using contaminated 
eye drops. 

When I found a piece of rope on a 
shelf behind my bed, nestled under- 
neath a pile of newspapers, I could 
not contain my horror. It was just the 
right length for a garrote. I know my 
murder mysteries. I brought it to one 
of the few therapists I trusted, who 
pointed out how paranoid I was, for 
the millionth time. 

Thus, I flunked the Reality Test, 
and when my friends started a steady 
campaign for my release, my shrink 
used the rope incident as proof that I 
wasn't "ready." But my friends look 
very conservative, so he finally 
agreed to let me go as long as I 
stayed with them. 

And this, dear Processed World, is 
where you come in! The point, at last! 
My friends brought me a copy of your 
latest issue, which I was happy to see 
after letting my subscription lapse a 
number of years ago. Today, I took it 
with me to read while enjoying 
breakfast, and I read the letters from 
your readers. It is strangely comfort- 
ing to know that there are other 
people trying to survive honestly in 
this insane world, and who are trying 
desperately to maintain their self- 

If I can ever save up the bucks for a 
trip back to Indiana, I will look for my 
brother and get down on my knees 
and plead for forgiveness. And I will 
accept whatever his response is to my 
belated awareness. May I live long 
enough to do this. 

I'm enclosing a check please start 
my subscription. 

J. W.— Santa Cruz, CA 

Page 42 




"The Children of the Day 
Are Seen by Everyone 
The Children of the 
Night are seen by none." 

by B. Brecht 

Like American cities that are always more beautiful 
from afar, the schools of Oakland, CA get worse and 
worse the closer one gets. As a substitute teacher in 
them, I constantly face the cracks in the walls, the steps 
falling away from the buildings and the permanent 
October of paper whirling round in the wind that 
together comprises a perpetually rephrased statement 
of rejection. The students and staff reporting each day 
cannot possibly ignore that these are places of no 
account, the bottom of the line. If there was any 
concern at all, it would be child's play (literally) to 
organize kids to simply get the paper picked up. 

Inside, the situation is poorer still. There are 
symbolic statements of care and order placed in the 
vicinity of the front office. Each school usually has an 
uplifting motto near the front door: "Rise to the 
Heights with Reading," for exeimple, or "Success 
through Responsibility," "Providing the Best Possible 
Services, "or "We Can Do It," but the further away 
from the main office, the bleaker the scene becomes. 
The paper debris gets heavier, the light poorer, the 
graffiti bolder and the effluvium from the rest rooms 
more obtrusive. Some of the worst corners of the 
school combine all of these features. In dark gloomy 
rooms, water drips from the pipes while fumes waft in 
from the lavatory on one side and the "cafetorium" on 
the other. 

The general structural problems of the schools are 
depressing, but it is, after all, possible to create a 
superb environment for learning in a city loft, a 
thatched shack in the jungle, a quonset hut. In 
Oakland, however, the sordidness is massively com- 
pounded by the students' own problems, which 
manifest themselves in tiny classroom details. 

Most rooms bear the scars of conflict — obscenities 
scrawled wherever possible (on walls, desks, seats, 
texts, dictionaries). Whatever can conveniently be 
defaced or degraded is defaced and degraded: a kind of 
effort at consistency in which the external world is 


unconsciously matched with the internal. If the inside 
is a jumble, then the outside will be sculpted to match. 
The rituals of coming of age also require attention: the 
use of red ink in seats to simulate menstrual discharge 
helps relieve boredom and celebrates the unfolding of 
biological changes both at the same time. 

This is all part of the mix. The black and brown 
adolescent kids come piling into the trashed or stripped 
down classrooms and there they get the treatment, or 
the Learning. But the Learning is readly the least cruel 
of the schools' ingredients, given the fund of sincere, 
benevolent intent behind it. Most vile is the under- 
stood, agreed-upon mandate that these really aren't 
schools at all. They are holding facilities, warehouses 
to contain the dangerous impulses of impoverished 
youth. The youth are not likely to take too kindly to 
the Learning under these circumstances. 

A significant minority of kids are furious with the 
idea of being contained against their best interests 
(whatever they may be) and continuously invoke chaos 
against most signs and tokens of mind. 

Some examples: 

Capping on a crazy. An emotionally disturbed kid (and 
there are usually four or five to a class) can be set off 
like a petard by whispering about him behind his back 
or by stealing his property. He then wanders about the 
classroom complaining piteously looking for his things 
or seeking to wreak revenge on his tormentors. This 
can be the source of riotous amusement — particularly 
when the disturbed kid is singled out by the naive 
teacher for punishment. In the meantime, all learning 
is brought to a halt. 

Sudden intimate needs made public. Simple things, the 
toilet, the sudden oncoming of the monthlies, finding 
someone's earlier monthlies right on your own seat, 
the effect of a strong fart nearby, the inedible lunch 
food coming to a dramatic resolution, all command 
universal attention when shouted at the right moment. 
Who could fault such legitimate needs? 

Direct attack. Erasers, spitballs, cosmetic ornaments, 
chalk — whatever comes immediately to hand — make 
up a limidess arsenal of missiles to be hurled at the 
teacher or other students whenever the opportunity 
presents itself (usually during some other disruption or 
at a momentary lapse of vigilance). 

Page 43 

There are various ways of dealing 
with such onslaughts (and it is necessary 
to deal with them directly and immedi- 
ately). They use up time and deplete 
energy but aren't as wearing as another, 
more subtle sort of classroom psycholo- 
gical warfare especially appropriate to a 
minority-populated, inner-city school. 
Consider the broad spectrum of faults 
and blemishes to which the creature is 
prey: bad breath, dandruff, warts, facial 
hair, bald spots, spaces between the 
teeth, jowls, asymmetries. Think of the 
amusement that can be derived from 
comments about these, ambiguously 
whispered, and add to it any of your 
own (quite possibly real) personal fears. 
Might there not be a stain near your fly? 
Is it impossible that there's a big ink blot 
on the back of your blouse or a red stain 
on tiie seat of your dress? 

For days, weeks, and months the 
scenarios of displeasure are enacted: 
Marquita waves her hand in front of her 
nose as the teacher approaches. "Bad 
breath, there can't be no wrong in telling 
the truth," Dante says nearby. 

"Here comes Ol' Dracula Breath," 
says Malike in a real deep voice. 

Added to that is the epithet; there is 
no way to escape from the word "nig- 
ger." Its use is pervasive and continu- 
ous. The purposes served are legion: a 
putdown, a sign of friendship, an ex- 
pression of desire to become friends, a 
statement of equality, of inequality. 
Mostly its use is the racist judgment of 
the outside world rising up inside, "You 
black filth!" for example. When used 
against me, however, in "you fucking 
nigger" (instead of "honky"), its use is a 
puzzle. It also puzzled the black campus 
administrator who hesitated a few mo- 
ments before leading the poor child 
away to the office. "We need to have 
those exact words written down on the 
referral form," he said. 

A response to the psychological war- 
fare isn't mandatory. It can't be since the 
meaning may be too ambiguous, too 
ephemeral, too self-distracting. There 
are ways to reduce its occurrence but 
not eliminate it altogether. Ultimately it 
boils down to learning to ignore it much 
like a stamping machine in an assembly 
plant. The noise intrudes into your 
consciousness only when it ceases; the 
cost is difficult to assess. The racial 
issue, on the other hand, surfaces con- 
tinually in a variety of forms compre- 
hensible and incomprehensible — and to 
ignore it is impossible. 

Take the recent large influx of refu- 
gees from southeast Asia, for example. 
The refugees make up a melange of 
peoples from Laos, Cambodia, Thai- 
land, and Vietnam. Many have region- 
ally distinct cultures and dialects. Their 
arrival is so recent that they possess very 
limited political power (as noncitizens 
and nonvoters). The students seem to 
share (1) a very poor comprehension of 
English, (2) a profound sense of familial 
identity, and (3) an avid desire to absorb 
the learning that the schools are pre- 
sumably supposed to set forth. 

Now the District, following its own 
political priorities, provides the very 
minimum of support for these kids. In 
the ESL (English as a Second Lan- 
guage) classes that I've taught, they're 
all bunched together. The Vietnamese 
sit cheek by jowl with the Hmong, the 
Cambodians with the Thais, in a verita- 
ble tower of Babel. TTiere are no books. 
The regular teacher brought in material 
she had bought or cadged on her own. 

"I've pleaded with the principal and 
I've called Downtown," she told me, 
"and they said that these kids' compre- 
hension of English was so bad that it 
would be a waste of money to get books 
for them. So I guess they're saying that 
the students are so dumb that they have 
to stay dumb." 

The kicker in this is that the southeast 
Asian kids don't "stay dumb." On the 
contrary, they sweep the honor rolls. From 
half to three-fourths of the honor rolls 
that I've seen in the schools (posted 
conspicuously near the front office) are 

loaded with names like Mok Moi, 
Reaksme Leng, Than Phueng and Won 
Fang. In several schools all the names on 
the honor roll were Oriental. And in 
class the behavior of these kids is 
exemplary: quiet, industrious and cu- 
rious, they represent a teacher's fantasy 
of the good student. 

As one might expect, this doesn't go 
down very well with their non-Oriental 
classmates. "Here come the chinky- 
dinky-linkies," they say. Once, when I 
wrote a sentence, "He ate the dog," on 
the board to illustrate a point of gram- 
mar, students called out, "Oh, that 
means that you're talking about the 
Dinkies." Meanwhile, Oriental kids in 
the lower grades are literally amusing 
punching bags for their more aggressive 
classmates since they don't seem to fight 

Once, in an awards assembly, the 
black principal read from a list of 
academic achievers: "The highest hon- 
ors," he said, "go to Moi Fen for the best 
grades in school." Dead silence. No one 
moved. "The second best," he went on 
"is Tai Beng." Again, dead sUence. After 
about eight or nine more such names 
(and more dead silence), he reached 
Laquita Robinson. Laquita rose and 
went to the podium to claim her certifi- 
cate amid uproar and applause. The 
experience reminded me of tales of 
immigrant Jews in urban schools at the 
turn of the century. 

Such group rivalry is part of an 
American pattern. It is at least compre- 
hensible. There are, however, things 
that absolutely mystify me. In one 
all-girl music class, I decided at the end 
of a particularly crazed Friday to en- 
courage the kids to sing any song they 
wanted to— just to get their minds off 
attacking each other, the classroom or 
me. So they got into singing psalms and 
hymns. Then after a while, a personally 
commanding girl named Keisha, who 
had been leading the singing, began to 

Page 44 


She acted as if they were in church, 
and she spolce of all the good things that 
Jesus was bringing. Then she went ofi 
into a melodic prayer. People began to 
feign swooning, talking in tongues, and 
being brought back by their sisters. All 
of that was fair enough. Then she began 
to speak of the Devil and how he was 
always around. About the same time she 
was talking about the Devil, one of 
the students shut off the lights (which 
puzzled me since it takes a special kind 
of key to do this), and another moved 
quickly to cover the windows with heavy 

At the precise moment that the room 
was at its maximum darkness, Keisha 
reached the apogee of her oration, and 
simultaneously the class produced a 
monstrous ear-piercing shriek. It must 
have terrified everyone in a two- 
hundred-yard radius. I don't doubt that 
they had literally called up the Devil in 
themselves. The campus administrator 
showed up in a minute, but there was 
nothing to be seen. 

After acting vile and horrible for 
about another ten minutes (school was 
almost over for the week), the students 
managed to pull off one more quick 
black mass. As the final bell rang and 
the second show concluded, they ran 
rampaging out of the room, turning 
over chairs and desks and flinging 
ketchup (from the little disposable 
squeezies available free in the cafetor- 
ium) on the walls. 

Five minutes later, a little sweet waif 
ambled back alone into the room and, 
without saying anything, helped me set 
the room's chairs upright. 

My focus has been upon the color and 
clash of the classroom. What happens to 
learning in all of this has been only 
hinted at. In most instances, I found 
that it isn't so much nonexistent as 
transformed into a venerable irrele- 
vance. By "venerable," I mean an entity 
of reverence, like a church. I say 
"irrelevant" because learning is largely 
incapable of attainment under the cir- 

For students, it is something to put up 
with in the hope that if you got through 
it maybe you could graduate and if you 
graduated, maybe you could get a job. 
For administrators, it's something that's 
periodically measured by the state and 
used as a basis of comparison with other 
administrators. For teachers, it usually 
serves as a form of behavioral and social 
control. It gives the students something 
to do during the class hour so as to 
prevent chaos. 

A surreal quality to learning thus 
evolves, something suitable for horta- 
tory slogans near the main office and for 
peddlers of success motivation schemes 

[how to be successful in less 

seem to have discovered a gold mine in 
the ghetto schools of Oakland. In the 
absence of relevance, in reliance upon 
teaching materials of questionable worth 
even in a suitable environment, in the 
presence of students whose backgrounds 
make learning difficult if not impossible, 
the imputed purpose of the school takes 
upon itself the characteristics of a scam. 

Robert Stone, in his Hall of Mirrors, 
has one of his characters describe the 
concept of the "Big Store." The Big 


This man had a black coat. 

This woman had a machine gun. 

This man is drunk. 

This man got soot. 

This woman had a big gun. 

This man is drunk. 

This people is drunk. 

The man got hlood. 

The gang or bad. 

This children was shoot. 

The woman was drunk. 

I am drunk. 

This woman is shoot. 

The man is drimk. 

This woman is soing. 

This is my day. 

The man is shoot. 

by Jamila, age 7, 
Los Angeles, 1988 
from a class assignment, 
"Gangs and How They Affect Us' 

Store is a real enough place, all right, 
made of plaster and wood and conven- 
tional furniture, but it's part of a 
confidence scheme designed to convince 
ethers of the truth of a fiction. "The Big 
Store Man," Stone's character explains, 
"makes his own reality, understand. He 
creates a whole world that somebody, 
for some reason, wants to believe in. 
Read people, real action, but it's not 
exactly happening, you dig?" 

by Allen Krebs(C) 1988 
















































Page 45 




Deep in his most secret heart of 
hearts, Mr. Elhott had always beUeved 
that ordinary rules of existence did not 
apply to him. Though not yet forty, he 
was already considered to have achieved 
world-class status on the corporate play- 
ing field. He had an office on Mont- 
gomery Street, a home in Pacific 
Heights, a condo in Maui, a member- 
ship at the Bohemian Club, a black 
BMW, a red Porsche, and over two 
hundred silk ties. He had no wife or 
children, but he wanted none. He wasn't 
a man who sought emotionail succor 
from the opposite sex or felt the need for 
a warm arm wrapped around his waist 
at night. Each day he gave birth to 
himself. That was enough. 

He was not prepared for death. The 
occasional bouts of moderate illness he 
had experienced in his life he had fought 
all the way just as he had fought every 
circumstance not wholly to his liking. 
Mr. Elliott was used to exercising 
control. He liked the upper hand. He 
was stunned, therefore, when his doctor 
announced that his cancer was well 

"How long do I have?" he asked. "Six 
months. Eight at the outside." 

He took a deep breath to collect 
himself before he got up and walked out. 
He preferred not to waste time discuss- 
ing chemotherapy and other treatment 
modalities that would at best permit him 
to survive through the end of the fiscal 
year. Mr. Elliott was already construct- 
ing an alternative crisis-management 
strategy. He went to visit cryonicist 
Barry Gillie, founder and president of 
Gillie Cryonics of Marin. 

"Just what are my chances?" Mr. 
Elliott asked. 

"Excellent," Dr. Gillie replied. "Much 
better than many candidates we inter- 

view. After all, you're still a young man, 
and aside from your cancer, you're still 
healthy and whole. I think we can safely 
assume that a cure for cancer will 
eventually be discovered. All you need 
is time — and with cryonics, you can buy 
that time. My assistants and I are good 
at what we do, Mr. Elliott. 

"My father developed this technique 
for suspending life indefinitely; it 
brought him a Nobel prize. I've devoted 
my life to perfecting his methods and 
making the process available to people 
like yourself. We can freeze the body 
down to the temperature of liquid 
nitrogen. That's minus 196 degrees 
Celsius — minus 330 degrees on the 
Fahrenheit scale. At that point, molecular 
motion stops, and one second's worth of 
degeneration takes about 300 trillion 
years. You can buy all the time you 

"What about bringing me back?" Mr. 
Elliott asked. 

"It's tricky," Gillie admitted. "Death, 
we have discovered, does not occur all at 
once. Rather, it's a gradual shutting 
down of systems. Starting up those 
systems again must also be gradual. 
Right now we're still grappling with the 
problem of tissue damage, which can be 
extensive, especially in organisms alrea- 
dy technically expired. Very frustrating. 
But, of course, Mr. Elliott, you're still 
very much alive. And let me tell you: 
we've been quite successful at taking 
living organisms full circle. Maybe 
you'd like to see some of our work?" 

"Yes, please." 

"Just a moment, then," the doctor 
said. He picked up his phone receiver 
and punched the intercom button. 
"Wilson," he told the party on the other 
end, "would you bring Gordie in? We're 
going to see the animals." 

A minute later, a lab assistant in a 
white coat came through the door 
holding the hand of a solemn, husky, 
red-haired boy of three or four. 

"Thank you, Wilson," Gillie said. The 
child tottered over and le^med against 
the doctor's knees. "My son, Mr. Elli- 
ott." Mr. Elliott was surprised to see a 
child in such a place, aind he said so. But 
Dr. Gillie stood firm in his reasons. 

"I myself grew up in a laboratory very 
much like this one," he said. "I want the 
same for my son. The processes of life 
and death are still a mystery for us, but 
they must not be taboo. I want Gordie 
to feel completely at ease here. This is a 
family business, you know." 

Mr. Elliott could think of no reply. 
The concept of family did not move 
him, and he did not understand, or 
trust, the humanitarian impulse that 
drove men like Gillie. It had never held 
a place in his life. When he remembered 
his own father's death, all he felt was 
relief and vague gratitude at having at 
last been awarded control over the 
family assets. 

"Gordie," the doctor said, "we're go- 
ing to go see the animals. Would you 
like that?" 

The boy brightened and grinned up 
at his father. Together the two men and 
the child strolled through a maze of 
hallways and into a large, cement- 
floored room filled with cages. All the 
lab animals — mosdy hamsters, rabbits, 
and dogs — were foraging madly around 
their enclosures. The boy ran to a pen 
that held two beagles. 

"His favorite," Dr. Gillie explained. 
"My Gordie is all-boy. Now, Mr. EUi- 
ott, I want you to know that each and 
every one of these creatures has been 
frozen and revived. With no evidence 
whatsoever of dzumage." 

Page 46 


Mr. Elliott was duly impressed. Yet it 
was a big step he was contemplating, 
even for a risk-tsiker like himself. On the 
other hand, if he passed up this oppor- 
tunity, the outcome was depressingly 

"I don't know," he said. 
"I can understand how you must be 
feeling," Gillie said. "But I believe in this 
process. In fact. . ." He lowered his voice 
to a whisper and leaned confidentially 
toward Elliott. "In fact, I believe in it so 
completely that I was willing to risk my 
own son's life." 

Mr. Elliott's eyebrows flew up as he 
realized what Gillie was saying. "Your 
son here? You tried the process on 
him?" 'Yes, indeed," the doctor replied 
triumphandy. "And as you can see, he's 
perfecdy all right. Just a normal three- 
year-old. But please, Mr. Elliott, don't 
spread it around. If my wife ever found 
out, she'd never let me babysit him 

Mr. Elliott was sold. Maybe the old 
saying was right: you can't take it with 
you. But with the help of cryonics, he 
could at least come back and get it. He 
shook hands with the doctor and went 
home to settle his affairs. 

Three months later, he had quit his 
job, bid his colleagues farewell, liqui- 
dated his assets, and left copious in- 
structions for his lawyer, his broker, and 
his banker. Then, with just the suit on 
his back and wearing his favorite silk tie, 
he climbed into a cab and ordered the 
driver to take him across the bay to 
Gillie Cryonics of Marin. 

That night as he lay stretched out on 
the clean and shining, stainless steel 
table in Gillie's operating room, he 
contemplated the nature of existence as 
he had known it. When he woke up 
again. Gillie had warned him, life might 
be altogether different than either of 
them could imagine. Mr. Elliott realized 
he might come to in this century or the 
next or thousands of years from now. 

There was no telling. It was an 
adventure of magnificent proportions. 

"Sweet dreams, Mr. Elliott," Gillie 
said as he leaned over him and swabbed 
his forearm with cotton soaked in alco- 
hol. "I can't say when we'll meet again. 
Perhaps not until my son or my grand- 
son or one of my far-flung descendants 
brings you around. But you'll be in good 
hands, I'm sure. When you do wake, 
there'll be time enough for you to live 
out the rest of your life the way God and 
nature intended. Just think how much 
interest your investments will have 
earned for you by then!" 

A pleasant thought, indeed, and Mr. 
Elliott was content as the injection Gillie 
gave him took effect. Within moments 


his attention slipped away. Then he 
seemed to find himself suspended near 
the ceiling of the operating room, look- 
ing down upon his own body lying 
naked on the table. He watched as the 
doctor and the assistant drained his 
blood, then filled his veins with the 
glycerol-based blood substitute that 
would act as antifreeze during the years 
he would lie suspended. He watched the 
entire process, and he wondered how it 
was that he felt no fear or disgust at the 
sight, only calm detachment. Then, 
when the two scientists had placed his 
body, head down, in the aluminum 
canister that would house him till the 
time of his resurrection, Mr. Elliott felt 
himself gendy drawn down, like a kite 
on a string, into his flesh. His con- 
sciousness waned and sputtered out. 

The next time Mr. Elliott knew 
anything, he was hovering near the 
ceiling again, in a large, dark vault lined 
with body-storage canisters. Below him, 
a young man in a white lab coat was 
mopping up. As he watched, a burly, 
red-haired man burst in and exclaimed 
hysterically, "Tom! What happened? 
Did we have another power failure?" 

Tom, the lab assistant, shook his head 
and squeezed out his mop into a plastic 
bucket. "I don't think so, Gordie. Did 
you remember to pay the P.G.& E. bill 
the other day, like I told you?" 

Gordie groaned and slapped his fore- 
head. "Oh God," he said, "that must be 

it. How can I be so stupid sometimes? 
What happened to the backup generat- 

"I don't know. Did you set them when 
you locked up last night?" "No, I 
thought you did it." 

"Gordie, I left early yesterday. Re- 
member? You were the last one out." 

"Shit, that's right. How many did we 

"Just three. Including your old man 
for the second time. Good thing none of 
them have any relatives likely to file a 

"That's good. I don't need any more 
stink around here, that's tor sure." 

"Gee, I'm awful sorry, Tom. What 
should I do now?" Tom shrugged and 
leaned his mop up against one of the 
aluminum canisters. Mr. Kliiott 
shivered as the mop's wooden handle 
clanked against the metal of his contain- 
er. "Call that woman at the dog food 
factory again, I guess." 


"While you're doing that, I'll flush 
'em, cut 'em up, and bag 'em for you." 
Gordie looked grateful. "Thanks, Tom. 
You're so good to me. I don't know what 
I'd do without you." He headed for the 
door. Tom called him back. 

"And, Gordie, tell her to pull her van 
around back. Don't let her park right 
out front again. It just doesn't look 

by Susan Gee Rumsey 



Page 47 


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